Sunday, March 31, 2013

Guy Bourdin- Story of a troubled but genius fashion photographer

I first came across Guy Bourdin's photography when I was preparing my portfolio for A'level art. I was attracted to his photography because he was a fashion photographer and my project was on fashion but more so because his photographs were so unique for his time. For those of you that are familiar with his work, you will I'm sure agree with me when I say that his images pushed the boundary of what would have been conventional at the time.

Bourdin was born in Paris in 1928 and sadly abandoned by his mother the year after. He was brought up by his father's parents and received his first photography training as a cadet in the French Air Force. He was an established photographer by the time his first fashion images were published in French Vogue in 1955. He went onto have a long and mutually fruitful relationship with the magazine which lasted for many years.

So what set Bourdin apart from his peers? I guess that depends on who you ask. If you speak to a fashion conservative they might say his photography defined everything that was perverse, shocking and disturbing. I suppose they maybe right. His photographs encompassed all that was misogynistic, erotic and sinister. However, if you asked a fan they may say those are the exact qualities that made him the best in his field and created his reputation as a revolutionary fashion photographer. I have to admit I am one of those fans. I am a fan of his more darker, shock inducing, surrealist photographs. I assure you the mood of his more sinister work does not in anyway reflect my own, I simply admire his work and find his images breathtaking. I was lucky enough to see his exhibition at the V&A in 2003; it took a very harassed friend and the lure of persian food to drag me away!

What do I find so mesmerising about his work? Take for example his habit of portraying women who appear dead in his images. It makes you think, it tells a story. It says yes these are beautiful images, the women are wearing beautiful clothes, jewellery and make-up but why do they appear to be dead? What is the story behind this image? It is this curiosity to know that makes you return to his photos over and over again; that and of course the glamour which can be found in abundance throughout his work. It also made me question what caused him to create the work that he did.

It could maybe be traced back to his relationship with women. It is thought that he never recovered from being abandoned by his mother and any women that he had a relationship with in his adult life were eventually trapped in both the relationship (mentally) and in his apartment (literally), not allowed to communicate with anyone in the outside world. Two of his lovers committed suicide, with one of them found hanging from the ceiling by his 13 year old son.

His wife Solange Geze died from what was thought to be an overdose. Did his troubled relationship with women define his relationship with photography? Possibly; he was well known for being very demanding on fashion shoots and was infamous for driving his models to distraction. Is my feminist self horrified that he treated women so abominably? Yes absolutely. Does that take away from his creative genius? No not at all. If at all possible it makes him even more beguiling and intriguing. Contrastingly, his friend Manolo Blahnik claims that Guy 'loved' and 'adored women'. He also apparently never thought of himself as a mysogynist but more as a 'poete damne'. I guess we will never know what exactly his relationship with the women in his life was and to what extent that affected/inspired his work.

He was never great at keeping a portfolio of his work thereby showing a disregard for fame and fortune. He was well known for not letting his pictures be used without context of a magazine,   he refused exhibitions and once turned down a handsome some of money as a reward from the french government. He was never interested in getting books published of his work. The first published book of his work came out after his death. Manolo Blahnik goes on to claim Bourdin to be so unique and brilliant that according to him no one can fill his shoes. I fear Blahnik maybe right; it maybe unlikely that there will be another photographer who has the same ability to shock and inspire quite the same way as Guy Bourdin.

believe that he was so driven by his own demons and appetite for sexual perversion that it resulted in his being a photographic genius.  Whether that is true I guess I shall never find out. Bourdin once claimed that his photographs were 'just accidents', I so wish more of us were able to create 'accidents' like his.


  1. Although i have never heard of his name, i have seen many of his pictures in various places! This means that regardless of what people think of his work and how they interpret it, it still has a fantastic visual effect.
    I love how he uses high contrast and sharp colors as well as unusual concepts. it is hard not to look at his pictures.
    I have never thought of a photographer's work as part of his/her personal experience but it sounds like you have given him a well rounded description and interpretation. Suddenly i became more interested looking at his pictures knowing bits of his life story. Its a lot more than fashion photography. Just like I do with poems.
    maybe photography and the graphic arts are poetry for our eyes!

  2. I could not go on enough about this guy!!!! Im so glad you like his work...incidentally this is by far my most read post but no one has until now commented so thanks for sharing your view! :-) you must check out some of his darker less colourful work, I think these photos are so colourful because I'm so into colour! X