One of the most influential and preeminent fashion photographers of the 20th century, known to constantly push the boundaries of fashion photography to its limit, Guy Bourdin, a French artist, born, lived and practised in Paris for more than 30 years. Highly experimental, fascinating and revolutionary, his work consists of photographs, paintings, books, film and writing. Breaking the conventional codes of the fashion industry, he elevated it to great heights by his surrealistic and experimental style of work. (The Guy Bourdin Estate, 2020)
Renowned for his suggestive staging, his millimeter decor and his surrealist aesthetic, he broke with the conventions of commercial photography through fierce perfectionism, scathing humor and a real artistic vision. Unclassifiable, unpredictable, versatile and cultured, Guy Bourdin remains an enigma.(The Guy Bourdin Estate, 2020)
Renowned for his commercial work, his editorials depicted sensual women in vivid, bold and colourful, carefully staged satirical settings. His work constantly challenged the mainstream beliefs about beauty and he created some iconic images for high-profile magazines and clients like Vogue, Chanel, Gianni Versace, Charles Jourdan and Bloomingdale’s. His friendship with Surrealist artist Man Ray in 1950 had a significant influence throughout his life, and Bourdin’s legacy is remembered for having changed the world of fashion photography forever (Artnet, 2020).
Bourdin combined bold and provocative images with a unique and contemporary aesthetic, the influence of Surrealism clearly seen in his work. He was known to create images with strong and suggestive narratives and captivating stories, in his attempt to establish that the photograph is more important than the product. The message that he wanted to convey through the medium of fashion photography, though difficult to comprehend, explored the realms of being preposterous to awe-inspiring. He broke the conventions of fashion and commercial photography with absolute perfection. His images are strong and unusual and therefore becomes fascinating to the viewer by grabbing their attention, subconsciously piquing their curiosity and imagination. His usage of hyper real colours, precisely and diligently composed elements, the beautiful interplay of lights and shadows along with the unique make up of his models made his images striking and him stand out from his contemporaries (Louise Alexander Gallery, 2020)
“Guy Bourdin irreverently swept away all the standards of beauty, conventional morals and product portrayals in one fell swoop. Around the female body he constructed visual disruptions, the outrageous, the hair-raising, the indiscreet, the ugly, the doomed, the fragmentary and the absent, torsos and death – all the tension and the entire gamut of what lies beyond the aesthetic and the moral.”(Taubhorn)
In his career that spanned over three decades, Boudin is best known for his non-conformist photographs of fragmented women’s bodies, alternating between objectification and empowerment, shocking and revolutionising the realm of commercial and editorial photography in the 1970’s (Artsy, 2020).
He began working for French Vogue in 1954, where he demanded and received unique editorial control. Inspired by Man ray and Surrealism, he broke the shackles of conventional descriptive roles of photography. His concern with formal perfection and extremely high finish fitted well in the sophisticated fashion photography terrain, where he developed his ideas for the next thirty years. His approach to campaigns rejected the idea of the classic product shot in favour of experimental surreal tableaux and suggested narrative ones. The radical changes that he brought about the way fashion was seen continue to resonate and inspire till today. With his mysterious, hypnotic, sensual and surreal images, he shows that within the context of fashion, its rarely the product or the fashion that compels us, rather it is the image, the suggested and meticulously put together narrative of sexual fantasy, the shock value, the quest of the unattainable and the suggestion of danger that it represents that holds more value (Phaidon, 2020).
“Ahead of his time, his fashion photographs subverted conventional fashion photography to present fetishised images of glossy, plasticised models. His work has been influenced by his interest in surrealism, exploring themes such as dark fantasies, perversions, lust, consumption and desire.”(Guy Bourdin | SHOWstudio, 2020)
His moody and alluring images that are considered legendary in changing the face of fashion photography forever, are not simply seen in the context of its field alone, but are highly acclaimed in the annals of contemporary fine art as well.
“I have never perceived myself as responsible for my images.(Bourdin)
They are just accidents. I am not a director, merely an agent of chance”
His inventive usage of the double spread magazine page to tailor his compositions within the restrictions of the printed page, both conceptually and graphically, is admirable. Both layout and design became powerful metaphors for engaging the mind as well as the eye of the viewer. With complete creative freedom, he played with the viewer’s mind by adding surreal twists to the subject and unconventional manipulation of the picture plane.
Key points and learnings from Bourdin’s works-
- Intensely saturated colors
- Surrealistic aesthetics
- Play of light & shadow
- Suggestive narratives
- Absurd & bizarre
- Blend of surreal and erotic
- Radical & Shocking
- Experimental angles
- Harsh lighting
- Get the attention of the viewer
- Muted eroticism
- Unconventional manipulation of the picture plane
- Whacky and creative