Wednesday, August 15, 2007

"Astonish Me!"

To this day, Alexey Brodovitch stands as the archetype for a modern magazine creative director. His bold, immediate, clean, photo-driven aesthetic (seen most evidently in his work at Harper's Bazaar from 1934-58) cleared a viable (and often lucrative) path for a bevy of visionary designers and artists to barrel down and make their mark.

As a teacher and boss, Brodovitch was harsh, unrelenting, and inspiring. Now there's a conundrum: a tough Russian ex-soldier with a talent for making women's clothing and cutting-edge type "float" on the page. Nevertheless, his students and assistants (Avedon, Penn, Arbus, etc.) flourished under his guidance and heavily accented maxims: "Astonish me!" "If you look through the camera and don't see something you've never seen before, don't click the shutter!"

Brodovitch never had a theory of design. He went with his gut and believed in his eye. That said, he also took his vast knowledge existing European aesthetics and unleashed them into the feisty and furious waters of mid-century America - a creative vacuum waiting to be filled. He was the right man for the job, and one of the rare instances of design-gone-right we have to point to.


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