Ballet. Photographs and design by Alexey Brodovitch. Text by Edwin Denby. J.J. Augustin, New York, 1945. 144 pp. Oblong quarto. First edition (limited to 500 copies, though allegedly far fewer were produced, and most were distributed as gifts). Plain boards with cloth spine. Printed French fold dust jacket. 104 gravure reproductions.
"One of the most cinematic and dynamic photobooks ever published...Ballet, published in 1945 by J.J. Augustin in New York, has become a photobook legend for two reasons. Firstly, only a few hundred copies were printed, so the book is more talked about than actually seen. Secondly, the volume was extremely radical… Alexey Brodovitch’s pictures totally violated the accepted conventions… [creating] a vibrancy and a fluidity that perfectly captures the motion of the dance."
The photographs in Ballet were taken between 1935 and 1937, just a year after Brodovitch arrived in New York. As Vince Aletti writes in The Book of 101 Books, they "reconnected him with one of his enduring passions: the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo...Working with an extremely mobile 35mm camera, Brodovitch captured the ecstasy and essence of the dance in images that shift, dissolve, blue, darken impenetrably, or explode into light"
"The picture represents the feelings and point of view of the intelligence behind the camera. This disease of our age is boredom and a good photographer must combat it. The way to do this is by invention – by surprise. When I say a good picture has surprise value I mean that it stimulates my thinking and intrigues me. The best way to achieve surprise quality is by avoiding clichés. Imitation is the greatest danger of the young photographer.--Alexey Brodovitch, Photography, February, 1964 [cited in: Creative Camera, February 1972]
About Brodovitch's enormous influence on the design of magazines, Jenna Gabrial Gallagher wrote in Harper's Bazaar online2007:
"Brodovitch's signature use of white space, his innovation of Bazaar's iconic Didot logo, and the cinematic quality that his obsessive cropping brought to layouts (not even the work of Man Ray and Henri Cartier-Bresson was safe from his busy scissors) compelled Truman Capote to write, "What Dom Pérignon was to champagne ... so [Brodovitch] has been to ... photographic design and editorial layout." Sadly, Brodovitch's personal life was less triumphant. Plagued by alcoholism, he left Bazaar in 1958 and eventually moved to the south of France, where he died in 1971. However, his genius lives on. Thirty-six years later, the work of Alexey Brodovitch never fails to astonish us."
"When you first glance at them, Alexey Brodovitch's photographs look strangely unconventional. Brodovitch, who knows as well as any of us the standardized Fifth Ave kind of flawless prints, offers us, as his own, some that are blurred, distorted, too black and spectral, or too light and faded looking, and he has even intensified these qualities in souvenirs, and he first took them to have a souvenir of ballet to keep. From the wings of from standing room, watching the performance, absorbed by a sentiment it awakened, he snapped, one may imagine, almost at random. But as you look at his results you come to see that he was steadily after a very interesting and novel subject. He was trying to catch the elusive stage atmosphere that only ballet has, as the dancers in action created it."--Edwin Denby.
Near Fine+ in Near Fine dust jacket; clean and tightly bound with minor discoloration and smudging to jacket, small tears to jacket at crown of spine (less than 1"); trace of abrasion at tips.