designers books

Published by Sébastien Hayez

Portfolio #2

Written by Sébastien Hayez, 4 years ago, 1 Comment


Frank Zachary (editor)
Alexey Brodovitch (Art Director)

Zebra Press, Cincinnati
Volume 1, Number 2
Summer 1950
First Edition
Softcover with wrappers

Alexey Brodovitch (1898-1971) is a legend in graphic design: during his 25-year tenure as art director of Harper’s Bazaar, he exerted tremendous influence on the direction of design and photography. A passionate teacher of graphic design, advocate of photography and collaborator with many prominent photographers, Brodovitch is often credited with having a major influence on the acceptance of European modernism in America. His use of assymetrical layouts, white space, & dynamic imagery changed the nature of magazine design. He was responsible for exposing everyday Americans to avant-garde artists by commissioning work from cutting-edge artists such as Cassandre, Dali, Cartier-Bresson, Man Ray, etc.

‘Portfolio’ is considered Brodovitch’s greatest achievement– although short-lived, the magazine captured the dynamic work of some of his emerging star students from his famous Design Laboratory, including Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Art Kane.

The list of contents and contributors for Portfolio magazine reads like a guest list at some great event hosted by an enlightened art patron. “Producing a magazine is not unlike giving a party — the editor-in-chief has to be a good master of ceremonies.” according to Frank Zachary.

Like Brodovitch, Zachary likened publication design to cinematography, where the pacing of visual sequences plays an important role. Art directing and editing are one and the same thing — you have to keep your eye on both the visual and verbal narration line. “You have to tell two stories, one in words, one in pictures, completely separate — but like railroad track, leading to the same place.” Zachary recounted to Martin Pedersen in Graphis Publications (Zurich, Graphis Press Corp., 1992).

“Astonish me!” was Brodovitch’s often quoted exhortation to students attending his “Design Laboratory” classes over the years. Though borrowing “étonnez-moi!” from the Russian ballet master Sergei Diaghilev, with this charge, Brodovitch indeed set in motion the application of the modernist ethos to American graphic design and photography.

Brodovitch’s legacy was given a boost by the publication of a major monograph on his work in 2002 by Phaidon. The Phaidon book reproduces every single page of each issue of Portfolio– a very unusual tribute.


This issue spotlights the work of Ray and Charles Eames– one of the earliest magazines to profile the Eames Office. This edition includes an embossed cover, bound-in wallpaper sample, several fold-outs and the highest quality printing available in the early 1950s.


  • Literary Forms: Article on typography (8 pages, 7 full-page reproductions) that reads as follows:”Rarely is the printed page considered a medium of plastic invention. Its design has become standardized, a machine-like element devoid of feeling and esthetic significance. This is cause for regret, for the variety of forms possible when typography and calligraphy are creatively used approaches that of abstract painting. On the following seven pages, Portfolio, reproduces in facsimile a number of unusual pages which possess real visual charm and excitement. First the modern and French poet Guillaume Apollinaire’s sensitive arrangement of his poem IL Pleut (It Rains), trickling down through the clean white air of the page opposite like a gentle spring shower. It is followed in turm by two curious pages from an early Christian panegyric, printed in 16th Century Germany and stenciled with mysterious religious symbols–a superb example of that now extinct form of literary expression known as “carmen figurato” (figured poem). Next is a contemporary spread from Pierre Reverdy’s poem Le Chant des Morts (Song of the Dead Ones), with the text in the poet’s script and illustrated with lithographs by Pablo Picasso who derived the abstract form of his designs from the skull, the bone and the straight line. Last is a poem by Wu Chang-Shih, one of the greatest modern Chinese calligraphers, written in the calligraphic style known as Ts’ao-Shu, or “grass” style, because of the impromptu nature of the strokes with which are the characters are formed. For designers chafing under the conventional discipline of the printed page in seeking new directions, these pages should bring both pleasure and inspiration.
  • Charles Coiner & The Container Corp of America Art Series: art director for N.W. Ayer and Son Inc. with 14 illustrated pages, 4 in full-page color: Full page color plates– Rufino Tamayo, Henry Moore, Morris Graves, Ben Shahn.
  • The MUMMERS Parade–a unique Philadelphia tradition captured in an amazing 6-page Pull-Out of 30+ photographs– Sol Mednick, Ben Rose, & Philadelphia School of Art students.
  • The Amazing Vari-Typer– the 1st word processor: 10 page illustrated article on James B. Hammond’s invention–a typewriter which only the giant Linotype can match.
  • Advertising Art in 1900: 7 pgs, 25+ images– vintage packaging, trade cards, etc.– Yellow Kid, Soapine.
  • MIRO on the Wall– wallpaper examples (including full color insert- “Wisconsin.”): Illustrated article about wallpaper design, 6 pages, 5 of which are full-page illustrations of wallpaper designs from Katzenbach and Warren Inc.; plus a full-color sample of wallpaper titled “Wisconsin”, designed by ILonka Karasz, machine-printed by offset lithography, designs by other artist with illustrations, full-page color design by Miro.
  • Joseph Low– Linoleum Typograph: 6 page illustrated article about artist Joseph Low titled, “Linoleum Blocks and Damped Paper”.
  • Cartoonist William Steig: 6 pages, five of which are full-page illustrations of his work.
  • Cattle Brands: 6 pages, 5 of which are full-page illustrations.
  • Charles & Ray Eames: 14 illustrated pages, 8 full-page pictures. Feature article Intimate look at this historic team & Santa Monica office– 25+ photo slideshow, 30+ total images- molded plywood & layout designs– incl. several candid shots of the architect & his wife.

Text by Modernism 101

  1. olga chekinaMarch 21, 2014, 9:48 am

    It is an edition I found for several years to show my students. Thank you for proffesional representation of the magazine. O.Ch.

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