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Fashion Photography: Guy Bourdin

The photographer whose fashion shoots exposed the true and unnerving nature of desire
Guy Bourdin, Charles Jourdan advertisement (1972)
 



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Guy Bourdin received his first photographic training while undertaking military service in Senegal in 1948–9.  His photographs were first shown in Paris in 1952, and he began working for French Vogue soon after, in 1954.

Inspired by Surrealism, and specifically the work of Man Ray, with whom he struck up a relationship, Bourdin rejected the descriptive roles of photography; he broke with tradition in that he remained, above all, an artist and an inventor, somewhat in the manner of Man Ray. Along with certain American photographers, notably Edward Weston, Bourdin recognised a concern with formal perfection and extremely high finish that became his own objective; one perfectly adapted to the deceptive sophistication of fashion imagery - the terrain in which he developed his ideas for over thirty years.

At French Vogue, Bourdin demanded - and was allowed - unique editorial control. Amazingly he extended this to his principal client in advertising, the shoe company Charles Jourdan, who first commissioned him in the 1960s. Bourdin's approach to campaigns reflected a distinct change for advertising in this period. Where it had once been dominated by selling the intangible quality of class, alongside the merchandise, Bourdin rejected the 'product shot' in favour of atmospheric, often surreal tableaux and suggestions of narrative.

The impact of the imagery of Guy Bourdin on both commercial and fine art photography continues to resonate today. He made radical changes both in the style and the meaning of commercial imagery. His fashion shoots are mysterious, hypnotic and surreal, exposing the true and unnerving nature of desire. He shows that, within the context of fashion, it is rarely the product that compels us. It is the image, the carefully staged narrative of sexual fantasy, the quest for the unattainable and the suggestion of danger.


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