Guy Bourdin: fashion photography as art

Credit: Guy Bourdin

In the photographs of Guy Bourdin, one of the fathers of contemporary fashion photography, there is always something enigmatic, as if they revealed the mystery that characterizes this author. His shots are unique, the result of a complex mind and a personal history steeped in pain. 

Born in Paris on December 2, 1928, he was abandoned by his mother when he was little more than a year old.

The detachment from his mother profoundly characterized Bourdin’s relationship with the female universe, always seen as a mere accessory placed alongside a lucid architecture of reality. An idea that would never abandon him, just like the ideal of a heavily made-up woman, with very pale skin and red hair: the only memory the photographer had of his mother.

A visionary with a vivid imagination, Guy Bourdin worked through metaphors, exploring contradictory realities and trying to exalt their most irrational qualities.

 The works

Extraneous to the exaltation of the physical perfection of women, Guy Bourdin placed at the center of his shots a narrative, presented with great emotional intensity. A story that is not that of the advertised brand

but its story, the one that he wanted to tell by enhancing the photo rather than the product. A real novelty in commercial photography.

Carefully constructed, Bourdin’s images are real frames of a film, in which violence, mystery and delirium intertwine with shocking results.

Credit: Guy Bourdin

Bourdin’s women are invisible, haunting, and often portrayed for disheveled parts. One of his earliest published photos depicts the haute couture model under numerous butchered cow heads. His idea of woman, unforgivable and mean, was the success of his works always of strong impact, close to touching the disquiet. It was with this macabre vision of his world that Bourdin made the history of photography, demonstrating the closeness of fashion to art.

“My photos are just accidents. I’m not a filmmaker, just the agent of chance.”

                                                                                                                       Guy Bourdin

A favorite pupil of Man Ray and admirer of René Magritte, Bourdin was strongly influenced by surrealist poetics, in its surreal features and provocative juxtapositions. In 1955 his services began to be published in Vogue Paris, and it was Vogue itself that gave the photographer carte blanche on his creations, also creating advertising campaigns for footwear designer Charles Jourdan. In those years, Jourdan’s advertising campaigns signed by Bourdin were the most anticipated by the media.

With his work Bourdin has directed the great theater of life, giving us a vision of a contradictory and perverse reality, where the central concept is the desire, the key element of all existence.

Rejecting the falsehood of fashion and its glamorous style, Bourdin has exasperated the artificial fiction through the use of saturated colors and meticulous play of light. A style, his, able to sweep away the traditional conventions of advertising language, making each shot overwhelmingly current.

In his photographs, Bourdin left nothing to chance: a meticulous craftsman of the lens, he built his sets with preparatory drawings, paying attention to every detail, making his photographs a true narrative enriched by a vibrant palette of colors, in a perfect blend of visionary eroticism and formal rigor.

Resistant to self-celebrations, Guy Bourdin did not collect his works and did nothing to preserve them. Throughout his life he refused all the prizes that were awarded to him, even that recognized by the French Ministry of Culture in the Grand Prix National de la Photographie in 1985.

Credit: Guy Bourdin

Guy Bourdin’s photography in the world

His impact in the world of photography and fashion is undoubted: photographers such as Mondino, LaChapelle and Knight have clearly expressed their great esteem for his colleague, declaring that they were inspired by him.

An insane genius, he was able to deny the essential elements of fashion, creating dreamlike fictions and spectral visions. Bourdin was the first fashion photographer in history to give more importance to the image and to what it could arouse, than to the product. From this interpretation was born what today is fashion photography: the search for a complex, provocative, amazing and difficult to decipher style in the fashion advertising industry.

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