In the world of groundbreaking fashion photography, a name that should ring a bell, and one that still rings true, is Guy Bourdin.
He might be gone but his work remains vital even today – not only inspiring modern photographers in the editorial studios around the world but defining a style. Guy Bourdin was a photographer who never enjoyed a traditional path to professional photography. That might have to do with the fact that he came from an artist background and was self-taught – writing his own story. However, he did have a mentor, another artist and photographer – the iconic Man Ray.
Almost immediately after Bourdin’s first exhibition in 1952, his career skyrocketed, and promptly began working with the elite of fashion. So, what was so special with Guy Bourdin and why is his work still so important in modern times?
To start off, he was among one of the first to create narratives and stories in images, emphasising how important they are, rather than just the product itself. His photography missives are always attention-grabbing stories and compositions – breaking conventions of commercial photography with an almost obsessive attention to detail, layered with a razor-sharp wit.
Bourdin used fashion photography as his medium and soon started exploring the realms between the absurd and the sublime. He was a big fan of Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Macguffin’ technique (taking a object, device or event which serves as a trigger for the plot). With the help of the ‘Macguffin’ technique he developed his own methods. These involved using hyperreal colours, meticulous compositions of cropped elements such as low skies with high grounds and the interplay of light and shadows, as well as the unique make-up of the models for optimum effect.
Guy Bourdin’s imagery not only changed the course of fashion photography, but influenced a host of contemporary artists, commercial photographers and filmmakers – and the impact continues to resonate today.
In 1970 for Vogue France, Bourdin shot an editorial advertisement for a Van Cleef and Arpels emerald pendant. He covered the model’s neck and face with pink transparent seed beads giving us the illusion that the model is covered in pink glimmer sugar as if she was part of the emerald, both luxurious and edible simultaneously.
And now in 2019, for Vogue Italia, photographer Brigitte Niedermair recreated that iconic shoot for another Van Cleef and Arpels pendant for the “Apple of My Eye” editorial shoot with additional image of other jewelleries by the same maker. Showing a modern twist of the whole luxurious confectionary interpretation.
His fashion shoots are mysterious and hypnotic, and delve heavily in the subconscious of desire. He shows that within fashion, it is rarely the product that inspires us. He worked to the tenets of glamour – that of generating envy and desire (and throwing in a pinch of danger into the pot too).
Fast forward to now, or indeed any time since, and that’s something we almost expect to see in the modern era of editorial shoot, but knowing where that started makes that detail even more fascinating.