Guy Bourdin

An introduction to the groundbreaking work of Guy Bourdin (1928–91), a great innovator in the field of fashion photography

Alison Gingeras


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Guy Bourdin was born in Paris in 1928 and received his first photographic training whilst performing military service in Senegal in 1948–9. His photographs were first shown in Paris in 1952, the catalogue for which exhibition included an introduction by Man Ray, and he began working for French Vogue in 1954.

Inspired by Man Ray’s brand of Surrealism, Bourdin rejected the descriptive roles of photography in favour of an exploration of the medium's capacity for the divergent. Along with certain American photographers, notably Edward Weston, Bourdin recognized 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 landscape in which he developed his ideas for over thirty years.

At French Vogue, Bourdin demanded and was allowed unique editorial control and 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. Bourdin rejected the 'product shot' in favour of atmospheric, often surreal tableaux and suggestions of narrative. Bourdin was not alone in demystifying the object, but he was the most radical in his approach.

The impact of the imagery of Guy Bourdin on both commercial and fine art photography continues to resonate today, Bourdin made radical changes both in the style and the meaning of commercial imagery. His fashion shoots are mysterious, hypnotic, 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 – carefully staged narrative of sexual fantasy, the quest for the unattainable, the suggestion of danger – that stimulates consumer desire.


Format: Hardback
Size: 156 x 136 mm (6 1/8 x 5 3/8 in)
Pages: 128 pp
Illustrations: 0 illustrations
ISBN: 9780714862583

Alison Gingeras is an international curator and writer based in Paris. She held the post of Curator of Contemporary Art Exhibitions and Collections at the Centre Pompidou, Paris (1999 to 2004) and was a member of the curatorial team at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York from 1995 to 1999. She is on the editorial committee of Tate.Etc. magazine and has written dozens of exhibition catalogue texts and essays on contemporary artists.

'This collection demonstrates Guy Bourdin’s visionary thinking and unorthodox approach in entwining fashion, sex and dark humour into narrative tableaux.' Dazeddigital.com

'A damn good storyteller who condensed carefully orchestrated narratives into a single photograph that both shocked and fascinated his audience ... Capturing every possible sexual taboo, his images consequently changed the face of '70s and '80s fashion photography.' (i-D)

'fascinating ... inspiring imagery. ... a great way to view and learn about the works of one of the great photographers of the 20th Century. ...compact in size [...] but it's difficult not to feel greatly inspired by it. ... will suit any photographer looking for some inspiration.' Digital Photographer

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Phaidon is the premier global publisher of the creative arts with over 1,500 titles in print. We work with the world's most influential artists, chefs, writers and thinkers to produce innovative books on art, photography, design, architecture, fashion, food and travel, and illustrated books for children. Phaidon is headquartered in London and New York City.
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