New York: J. J. Augustin Publisher, (1945).
Oblong 4to (214 × 278 mm), pp.144. 104 black-and-white photographs printed in gravure. Photographs and design by Brodovitch. Text by Edwin Denby; minor production crease to one leaf, minor handling crease to another. Plain endpapers; shallow crease to front flyleaf. Plain boards with cloth spine. Grey printed fitted French-fold dust-jacket, text to front in white; short splits to spine-folds strengthened with Japanese tissue on inside, light creasing to flaps, minor toning to edges, light rubbing to bottom outer corners. Publisher’s original board slipcase with printed blue and white label to front; lacking the grey paper covering save for a strip to the spine edge, boards toned and soiled, spine and portion of bottom edge missing, spine replaced by a former owner. An excellent copy of an extremely fragile book.
First edition, limited to 500 copies. Ballet is a remarkable book, it contains photographs taken between 1935 and 1937 by Brodovitch of various international ballet companies whilst they were performing in New York. He photographed the dancers from behind the stage during performances and rehearsals, using a 35mm camera with slow film in available light. Later he enlarged small sections of selected frames and employed various darkroom techniques to bleach and fade certain areas and to further emphasise the contrast and grain of the images.
‘In an era that celebrated clear, sharp, precisely defined, literal photographs, Ballet, with its rough prints, random compositions, unfocused studies, blurred movement, indistinct form, and extreme contrast of brilliant whites and dense blacks, was a radical and innovative departure. Brodovitch sacrificed all the conventional rules of photography in order to capture not one particular ballet, but the experience of dance in general, its energy, movement, and passion… Brodovitch’s success was due in part, to his inclusion of studies not of the dramatic climaxes or highlights of a ballet, but, as Edwin Denby wrote in the introduction, “the unemphatic moments, the ones the audience does not applaud but which establish the spell of the evening.” Further, he created the emotional impact of a ballet through his design and sequencing of the photographs.’
The photographs are arranged in eleven segments, each showing a different performance, printed full bleed and butted up against one another to create a series of continuous sequences. Each section is introduced with the title of the ballet in a typographical style that echoes the aesthetic qualities of that particular ballet. The ballets included are Les Noces, Les Cent Baisers, Symphonie Fantastique, Le Tricorne, La Boutique Fantasque, Cotillon, Choreartium, Septieme Symphonie, Le Lae des Cygnes, Les Sylphides, and La Concurrence. ‘Beyond a brief introduction, the sequence has no discernible narrative progression. It is not an intellectual or rational order, but an intuitive one that evolves as the images flow into one another in cinematic fashion; it is not a descriptive record, but a subjective interpretation composed of many separate scenes that together evoke an experience.’
Due to its small print run Ballet received limited commercial exposure, though its influence was widely felt Jane Livingstone and other critics have suggested that a great number of the copies that did find their way into circulation were distributed by Brodovitch himself to friends and colleagues. Its scarcity was exacerbated when fires in 1956 and 1959 destroyed much of Brodovitch’s working archive and library including most of his own remaining copies of Ballet. According to OCLC, a significant number of copies are now held in libraries and institutions worldwide, though COPAC does not locate any copies in Britain.
Greenough, S., ‘Fragments that Make a Whole Meaning in Photographic Sequences,’ Robert Frank: Moving Out; Sinibaldi, A. and Couturier, J-L., Regards sur un siècle de photographie à travers Le Livre (85); Roth A., The Book of 101 Books: Seminal Photographic Books of the Twentieth Century pp.110-3; Purcell, K. W. Alexey Brodovitch; Parr, M. and Badger, G., The Photobook: A History vol.I pp.240-1; Roth, A., The Open Book: A History of the Photographic Book from 1878 to the Present pp.136-7; Auer, M. and M., 802 photo books from the M + M Auer collection p.314 [none of which mention the publisher’s slipcase]; Errata Editions Books on Books #11 Alexey Brodovitch: Ballet.