Alexey Brodovitch’s Forgotten Design for Exakta Magazine

When I was young and poor I used to walk across the street from the camera store where I worked and buy vinyl record albums at Quonset Hut, which was the cool place to buy music (and music-related t-shirts) but also the closest. I didn’t choose what I bought by genre but by association.

An example of what I mean, but first an exception. One day a friend of mine invited me to go with him to the Civic Theater in Akron, Ohio to see a concert film by a group that I knew of and knew a few songs by but otherwise didn’t know much about. I didn’t own a single Talking Heads album. The Civic Theater has seen good times and hard times but you can get a sense of it from this Hiroshi Sugimoto photograph.

Photograph by the great Hiroshi Sugimoto.

The whole place was over-the-top ornate, the lobby, hallways restrooms, and we sat in the front row of the balcony, the theater three-fourths empty. White clouds, projected in some mysterious way, floated across the ceiling, moving slower than the minute hand of a grandfather clock.

Soon after Stop Making Sense started a few people started to dance in the aisle below us but I was too worn out from working two minimum wage jobs to do anything other than put my feet up on the railing and slide down in my seat to watch.

What a great film, but sometime after “Life During Wartime” I fell asleep, coming to again in the middle of “This Must Be the Place” and then “Once In A Lifetime” with David Byrne herky-jerkying in a crazy-big suit. I still remember the feeling of waking just then, my attention fully on the film and the songs, like I had been meditating on the music rather than eyes-closed unconscious.

The next day I bought every Talking Heads album, thirty-five dollars in cash, a budget-killing expense for me. Well, I could always cut back on food and gas.

Then, week by week, month by month, the buying by association began. Brian Eno‘s name kept popping up in the credits on the Talking Heads albums—in those days, of course, people looked at the album art and credits and even the lyrics. Then I found My Life In the Bush of Ghosts (by Byrne and Eno) and then Eno’s three albums where he sings (all of his other composing work is ambient). I don’t know how many times I played Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) and I still stop and listen when anything from Another Green World comes up on my shuffled playlist.

From here I jumped to Philip Glass’s Songs From Liquid Days an album of lyrics by Byrne and others set to music by Glass. Linda Ronstadt is there in the vocals at the end, foreshadowing the wonderful work she would do later on Glass’s 1000 Airplanes On the Roof but there was also the Kronos Quartet (playing on the same song) and a group called The Roches, which turn out to be not a punk band but three sisters named Roche who sang together a sort of folk group, but that’s not the right word. Their self-titled album, which was produced and featured Robert Fripp, who also played on Eno’s Another Green World, I loaned out to my manager at the cameras store and, in those pre-Internet days, it took me a long time to find another copy. The Roches both wrote the lyrics and sang on the Glass album. They also made a Christmas album that I still play every year.

From Eno, though I didn’t know at the time, the association game would branch out dramatically—as a producer he seems to have worked with everyone. I bought U2’s Joshua Tree not because I was a huge U2 fan but because Eno produced it. Then, I learned of Daniel Lanois and I bought his albums, too. When I forget to shuffle my playlist starts off with the soft strumming of his guitar on “Still Water.”

And so on.

The association game works for photography, too, not just music. I made a book of my work, it came out this year (bad timing, I know!). My designer was Bob Aufuldish, who is a talented designer who works with some of photography’s big names and most (if not all) of the museums in San Francisco and beyond. Pier 24, the photo gallery, has an Instagram series on photobook collecting and one day they choose Bob and they asked him what photobook did he buy first, what book did he most recently take down to look at and what book does he dream of owning. He said he dreams of owning Ballet by Alexey Brodovitch.

Well, that piqued my interest and so I looked up Ballet, which turn out to be rare and expensive, and I found that I recognized the photos. At first I thought I must have gone through the book when I was as a teenager when I used to take the bus all the way downtown to hang out at the Akron Public Library’s main branch, going through every book in their well-stocked and well-chosen photography section. But the more I think about it I’m wondering if I just recognize the book from having seen its pages reproduced here and there over the years.

So, then I’m working on my series on Ansel Adams that I’m posting here on my blog where I list every mention of Ansel in the New York Times. I come to a 1952 entry and it mentions Ansel but it also mentions that Brodovitch designed an issue of Exakta Magazine from 1952. I google and find nothing. Not a single hit. So I go to E-bay and I see two issues, one from 1952, but the wrong issue. The other is from 1958. The 1952 issue is Volume 2, Issue 2 and I know that is the one just after the one I want—but maybe Brodovitch did two issues? It arrives and the designer is listed as Leo Lionni, a well-known designer of that time. I keep looking.

A few days later I see a listing for Exakta brochures, several of them, and in the listing’s photograph there is an issue of Exakta Magazine. No date on the cover, no info, but now that I’ve seen Brodovitch’s work I think I have a feel for it, maybe this is the one. When it arrives I’m thrilled to see his name on the masthead.

Where will Brodovich lead me? I’ll let you know when I know. Until then, as a way of giving back to the Internet (an idea that used to be a guiding principle in the early days of the Web), I’d like to share these issues of Exakta Magazine, one designed by Brodovitch and one designed by Lionni, in reverse chronological order. The Lionni, I think, gives the context for the Brodovitch.

First up is a gallery of spreads from Exakta Magazine, Volume 2, Issue 2, 1958, design by Leo Lionni.

Then, the gallery of spreads from Exakta Magazine, Volume 2, Issue 1, design by Alexey Brodovitch.

Exakta Magazine, Volume 2, Issue 2, 1958, design by Leo Lionni.

Exakta Magazine, Volume 2, Issue 1, design by Alexey Brodovitch.

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