Art Director of Harper’s Bazaar for 25 years
Alexey Brodovitch (1898 – 1971) was an American/Russian graphic designer and magazine art director. Alexey Brodovitch was born in Russia and worked in Paris in the 1920s, creating books, posters, furniture, and advertising. He moved to America in 1930 and worked as the art director of Harper’s Bazaar magazine in New York after a brief stint of teaching and advertising. From 1934 to 1958, he revolutionised American magazine design in this capacity.
However, Brodovitch was never a happy man despite his professional achievements and public success. Born in Russia in 1898 of moderately well-to-do parents, he deferred his goal of attending the Imperial Art Academy to fight in the Czarist army, first against the Austro-Hungarian Empire and then against the Bolsheviks. In defeat, he fled Russia with his family and future wife and, in 1920, settled in Paris. There, despite the burden of exile, he prospered; in 1924, his poster design for an artists’ ball won first prize, and in 1925 he won medals for fabric, jewellery and display design at the International Exhibition of Decorative Arts (the landmark “Art Deco” exposition). Soon he was in great demand, designing restaurant décor, posters and department store advertisements.
His work for Harper’s was sensitive and intuitive; rather than being constrained by a stylistic or academic mould, type, image, and colour were treated with flare and artistic audacity. But the use of photography and type ushered in the real revolution. Brodovitch commissioned stunning photography from the European avant-garde, cropped images in entirely new ways; urged his photographers to design photos as full-frame pages; and used illusory techniques like size contrast to create a sense of depth within the page. Although the type was always responsive to photography, it was allowed to flow. His trademarks were captions and paragraphs with outrageously ragged margins (producing long stringlike wisps across the page). Harper’s Bazaar issues published during Brodovitch’s reign have become a historical design study in and of itself, including evocative pictures by Man Ray and graphics by a young Andy Warhol.
Brodovitch also developed and designed another significant magazine achievement of the day, a large-format showcase for graphic design called Portfolio, in collaboration with Frank Zachery, in 1950. (a sumptuous magazine with no advertising).
Liberated Fashion Model
Brodovitch is also credited with liberating the fashion model from the studio. Through his work in the magazine industry, he discovered and mentored several photographers who would shape the direction of photographic history, including Robert Frank, Richard Avedon, and Lisette Model. His decision to shoot outdoors and shoot models engaged in ordinary activities informed several photographic trends, including the “American” look of the 1930s to the “action shots” of the 1950s. Outside of fashion photography, meanwhile, his grainy, high-contrast, action photographs of ballet performances were early forerunners of the snapshot aesthetic that came to dominate professional photography in the second half of the 20th century.
Brodovitch lectured and taught at several schools, including Yale, Pratt, and others. Still, his primary educational function was in the Design Laboratory, a seminar course. From 1936 until the 1940s, the Laboratory was housed at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art, then the New School for Social Research in New York, and finally other locations. Photographers Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, and Art Kane were among Brodovitch’s students.
Alexey Brodovitch Art, bio, ideas. The Art Story. (n.d.). Retrieved January 20, 2022, from https://www.theartstory.org/artist/brodovitch-alexey/
Dormer, P. (1991). The illustrated dictionary of twentieth-century designers. Mallard Press.
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