A true milestone of the fashion photography subgenre, Guy Bourdin was a French artist and a photographer known for his provocative and pioneering images. During a career that spanned over three decades, this author made a practice out of creating depictions of fragmented women’s bodies – images that were often described as shocking, sensual and unsettling. Nowadays, Bourdin is considered to be one of the best-known photographers of the fashion and advertising industries of the second half of the 20th century. With his work tiptoeing to the edge of pornography but ending up at art (TIME Mag), Guy’s name quickly became virtually synonymous with fashion photography.
First Contacts With Photography
Guy Bourdin was born on the 2nd of December in the year of 1928, in Paris, The City of Light and the capital of France. His parents got divorced when he was still an infant, after which young Guy was sent to live with his paternal grandparents who owned a house in Normandy. When his father, who was mere eighteen years of age at the time of his son’s birth, remarried, Bourdin once again found himself under his dad’s care. By the artist’s own claim, he only saw his mother once when she arrived with a gift on one of his birthdays. However, the two stayed in touch via telephone and letter correspondence. At the age of eighteen, Bourdin began a cycling tour in Provence, a journey during which he met an art-dealer Lucien Henry. Soon, young Guy was heavily concentrated on painting and drawing, at least until it was time for his mandatory military service. It was during his service in the Air Force (1948 – 1949) that Bourdin was first introduced to photography. Stationed in Dakar, he received his initial training working as an aerial photographer. When he returned to Paris, Bourdin supported himself by selling camera lenses and also continued to paint, draw and take pictures.
Taking the Fashion Scene by Storm
Ambitious and full of creativity, young Guy sought out the mentorship of the American Surrealist star in France, Man Ray. After many attempts to reach Man Ray, most of which were stopped by the artist’s wife, Bourdin finally got to meet his idol in the year of 1950. Soon, Bourdin had succeeded in gaining the confidence of Man Ray who accepted him as a protégé. Guy made his first exhibition of drawings and paintings at Galerie, Rue de la Bourgogne, Paris, whilst the first show organized around his photos came in 1953. It should be noted that the author used a pseudonym in the early stages of his career, usually calling himself Edwin Hallan. Bourdin’s first fashion shots were published in the February 1955 issue of Vogue Paris. He quickly became a star of the world, often working with his friend and colleague Helmut Newton who also worked extensively for Vogue. The two photographers established many aspects of the modern photography and its practices. In fact, Newton once stated the following: Between him and me, the Vogue became pretty irresistible in many ways and we complemented each other. If he had been alone or I had been alone it wouldn’t have worked. In 1985, Bourdin turned down the Grand Prix National de la Photographie, but his name is retained on the list of award winners. Guy died six years later.
The Alternative World of Guy Bourdin and His Photos
While conventional fashion images make beauty and clothing their central elements, Bourdin’s photographs offer a radical alternative. This may very well be the best way to describe the art of Guy, aiming precisely at its core. By exploring the boundaries of that alternative world of style and sensuality, Bourdin set the stage for what we today call fashion photography. When his career came to an end, this artist had created countless pictures for Vogue but also worked for other companies and publications including the likes of Harper’s Bazaar, Chanel, Charles Jourdan, Pentax and Bloomingdale’s. This, combined with the fact that Guy’s photographs are a part of important institutions’ collections such as the ones at Tate and MoMA, is the best testament to just how crucial Bourdin is to the medium of modern photography.
- Gingeras, A. M., Bourdin, G., Guy Bourdin (55s), Phaidon Press; Reissue edition, 2011
- Bure, G. D., Guy Bourdin, Thames & Hudson, 2008
- Toscani, O., Bourdin, G., Guy Bourdin: Polaroids, Editions Xavier Barral, 2010
Featured image: Guy Bourdin – Self portrait in Man Ray’s Studio, 1953 – Image via fffertileminds.rs