Alexey Brodovitch – A Master of Composition
A true pioneer to modern design known almost exclusively for his work in Harper’s Bazaar, Alexey Brodovitch was one of the most innovative and inspiring designers of his time.
“If you know yourself, you are doomed.”
- Alexey Brodovitch
Born in Ogolitchi, Russia in 1898 to a wealthy aristocratic family. Brodovitch had never experienced the need to work until 1920 during his exile to Paris from the October Revolution. He first discovered his creative genius working as a painter of stage sets for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. This later inspired him to focus his ideas and desires to blend boundaries between different art forms in other creative means in a commercial art setting.
A trademark of Brodovitch was his use of the Bodoni typeface. The crisp and razor sharp edging of the type provided a dynamic movement when used in his signature white space. Brodovitch, though fond of Bodoni, chose to match the typeface with the feeling or need of a particular effect in his work. His primary concern wasn’t limited to legibility alone.
Understanding that the type could also be a dominant element in the composition instead of being secondary to imagery, Brodovitch chose to “illustrate” the type. He oftentimes used the type to mimic shapes he discovered in the photography to be used for a current issue. This created an energized and exciting element to every page. With the no limitations to his typographic style, he introduced an innovative means to design type for his successors.
Photographs were also seen as a tool for experimentation in his work. He cropped his photographs to suit the message, occasionally a bit off-center, and placed them in such a way that he could integrate them in the whole. By bring the photographs to the edge of the page and allowing them to carry over onto a second page, completing the spread transition, he introduced a dynamic level of design which few others could match.
“I saw a fresh, new conception of layout technique that struck me like a revelation: pages that bled beautifully, cropped photographs, typography and design that were bold and arresting. Within ten minutes i had asked Brodovitch to have cocktails with me, and that evening i signed him to a provisional contract as art director.”
- Carmel Snow
There are dozens of articles today critiquing his generous use of white space around imagery and text when designing, and where many of his colleagues viewed this as a waste of valuable space they are nothing short of highly structured and elegant. Alexey Brodovitch was a powerful designer that challenged the course of composition by pushing boundaries and in doing so, further spread the influence of modern design. He demonstrated that modernism can be dynamic, abstract and free flowing while maintaining a clean still beauty.