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Photovision Magazine

Book Reviews
Alexey Brodovitch
Text by Gabriel Bauret
Assouline, ISBN: 2-84323-1167

Review by Robert Hirsch

Alexey Brodovitch opens with the adroit graphic designerís words: "Begin without a camera: cut out a window in a piece of card. Look, discover, choose what you are going to photograph." One then proceeds to a bold black-and-white two-page bleed proclaiming that this is a "PORTFOLIO" from the Italian "portafoglio" [sheet-holder] (1722). Set of prints by an artist showing his work in the format in which it was originally printed. What follows are high-quality reproductions of original paste-ups and printed magazine pages that offer a quintessential mini-review of high-end fashion culture during Alexey Brodovitch [1895-1971] tenure as the art director of Harperís Bazaar from 1934-58. Brodovitch lead the way in liberating fashion magazines from past genres by generating a new compositional structure for the printed page and challenging photographers to produce daring images for these formats. Brodovitch's key concept was to envision his layouts as single rectangles that spread over two pages instead of the narrow vertical column of a single page. His experimentation with bleed photographs, cropping, illustrations, movement, montage, multiple imaging, scale, synthetic color, type and white space serves as a catalog of how to formulate a desired meaning and control the readerís visual pacing of time. Brodovitch's work as a designer and teacher, coupled with his recognition of the abilities of immigrant photographers to find new forms for interpreting the culture and fantasies of the New World, affected the styles of photographers including Lisette Model, Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Hiro, and Robert Frank. In addition, Brodovitch maintained potent working relationships with innovative practitioners such as Martin Munkacsi, Erwin Blumenfeld, and George Hoyningen-Huene. Brodovitch also affected people in the fashion business that saw his new ideas each month on the pages of Harper's Bazaar and began to imitate them.

Bauret, former editor-in-chief of Camera International, provides capsule overviews of Brodovitch, Harper's Bazaar, and the double-page spread. Ironically his opening text suffers from problems of being over designed and is difficult to read. Fortunately Brodovitchís work is presented in a straightforward manner so readers can see how his ideas translated into ink. The study of these reproductions can reveal how images are used to convey particular aspects of beauty and role playing, how they manipulate fantasies and standards of what constitutes an ideal woman or celebrity, and how these codes have both changed and remained the same. Fragments of the magazineís original text, from the writing of Charles Baudelaire to the advertisements of Bergdorf Goodman, often accompany the images and offer up a wide-range of cultural clues about the pursuit of human beauty and its transitory nature. Unfortunately the accompanying text only covers Brodovitchís impressive artistic techniques and does not analyze the various ways they might have influenced viewers.

Celebrities and events that influenced fashion and high-society, from Marlon Brando to Frank Sinatra, grace the pages. Critic/tastemaker Clement Greenberg supplies his reading of "Jackson Pollockís New Style." The publication of Henri Cartier-Bressonís Decisive Moment is covered as well as a tribute to photographer Werner Bischof who was killed in the Peruvian Andes. We are also unexpectedly treated to photographers such as Man Ray and W. Eugene Smith whose work is not generally associated with Harperís Bazaar. The book shows how Brodovitchís uncluttered graphic look that emphasized photography continues to be a familiar design hallmark in many mass-circulation magazines today.