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Untitled (from the Ballet series, SeptiŞme Symphonie)
1935-1937 (taken) 1950s-1960s (early, print)
Silver copy print
8 x 10 in (20.3 x 25.4 cm)
Swann Galleries - New York
Courtesy of Swann Galleries (Auction May 20, 2010, Sale 2215 Lot 308)
With the partial plate number 110, in the negative; Brodovitch's inscription, "To Patty with Thanks Alexey," in ink, and his Design Consultant hand stamp, on verso.
Alexey Brodovitch's first encounter with ballet came soon after his arrival in Paris in 1920. He was 22 and a recent emigrant from Russia and the Bolsevik Revolution of 1917. An aspiring painter, Brodovitch began painting sets at the Ballets Russes after a chance meeting with the troupe's impresario Sergei Diaghilev. He fell in love with the medium and later, after moving to New York, began photographing visiting ballet companies for what he termed 'souvenir purposes.' Between 1935 and 1937 Brodovitch created one on the most influential bodies of work of the period.
Just as Brodovitch's radical design would revolutionize publishing and magazine production, his photographs dramatically deviated from the typically more formal and neatly focused photographs of the period (this is not Cartier-Bresson's decisive moment). His early images, perhaps fortuitous accidents, compelled Brodovitch to push the medium as far as it could go. He used a 35mm Contax camera with no flash and set the shutter speed at one-fifth of a second, tracing the dancers's moments with his lens and allowing the stage lights and music to dictate his images. Indeed the images (and even more emphatically, the layout of his book) seem dictated by and humming with the score itself. He moves from the backstage, where the dancers wait expectantly in the wings, to the stage where he seems to be immersed, nearly participating, in the dance and finally to the moments of crescendo, when the formal elements of the world disappear and the dancers seem suspended in inky blackness while the brilliant white footlights explode around them.
In the darkroom Brodovitch manipulated his images further, enlarging tiny details to exaggerate the grain and distortion, bleaching areas of the negative to highlight the glaring footlights and even covering the lens of the enlarger with cellophane to produce a faded effect at the edges of the image. His photographs, perhaps more than any other, seem to capture not only a certain arc of a raised arm, swish of a skirt, leap into the air, but also the moments before and after. They are nostalgic, evoking Brodovitch's own history with the ballet troupes, but also suspenseful, brilliantly evoking the momentous, purposeful inhale of dance itself.