Guy Bourdin


The art of the human form and the bizarre are all things, which initially intrigued me towards photography, Helmut Newton being my most favored. As I’ve learnt more and more about other types of photography my love for surrealism such as Salvador Dali’s photography and erotica subsided. Guy Bourdin, however, has reignited those burnt out flames.

Guy Bourdin was a French fashion photographer inspired by one of my favourites Helmut Newton. He received photographic training while under military training from 1948-1949. By 1954 he was working for French Vogue and was given unique editorial control. His ideas were fresh, exciting and shocking for that time, pushing him to the pedestal of intrigue and demand.

Bourdin was credited for revolutionizing the fashion photography of his period. He moved away from the safe, product orientated shots of the era and instead created eerie, seductive and thought-provoking pictorials. Bourdin rejected the ‘product sho’t, which had dominated the fashion industry for so long and focused on creating filmic and atmospheric photographs. Each shot exudes a story, a character, a narrative, conjuring all sorts of allure and intrigue in buyers and viewers alike, sometimes even upset. The products and merchandise are simply caught up in the surreal narratives Bourdin’s strange imagination had created. There’s a seductive vitality and energy in the images that you’re eye can’t help to escape from.

The settings consist of dank hotel rooms, seedy bathrooms, claustrophobic spaces and lonely landscapes. The characters mainly pale redheads are withdrawn, with lifeless or growling expressions (when Bourdin decided to reveal a models face that is) which is juxtaposed by their vibrant make up and vivid merchandise; lonely beautiful women floating in unsettling remoteness but who own the finest of things: a dress, a high heel and so on. In most of the images the models identities and faces are hidden, their bodies cut and chopped out of frame or hidden by the narrative their implicated by. They also appear distorted breaking away from conforms of what society sees as long, graceful, attractive and feminine. They become an object, or beautiful figure lost in some strange, unexplainable scenario.

Bourdin broke new boundaries in fashion. This was not only due to the filmic and surreal qualities of his images but their lack of focus on the products. It was the narrative and feelings his images conjured within the viewer, not a clean cut image of a high fashion piece. Many were left disturbed, so much so the products became irrelevant. For me, however, perhaps because of my age, I feel I do actually focus on the products more within Bourdin’s images over anything else. This is especially true when the models are seen lifeless, consumed by a following fabric or holding a bright product. Whilst the images your attention for a long time, form a narrative and sense of intrigue, the obvious contrast between product and strange tale, becomes too jarring to ignore! My eye keeps returning to the product over and over. You become an investigator and start wondering if the merchandise was used within the scene or is about to be. Either way my attention still very much involved the product. Back then however, I can understand how they would be more surprising.  Overall, I find the images very intriguing, especially where only a body part of the model is revealed.

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