In the 1970s, under the editorship of Francine Crescent, French Vogue was more free and advanced in the images it published than even Diana Vreeland’s American Vogue. Vreeland’s skill as an editor was to make women purr with pleasure at what they saw; Crescent’s was to amuse, intrigue and shock them.
Nine times out of ten it was a fashion shoot by the photographer Guy Bourdin with searingly bright colours, showing clothes as never shown before. Bourdin’s photography was sensational, exotic, sinister, shocking, provocative, sensual, surrealistic and simply out of the box. The themes seeds that defined his work were: death, nudity and, ultimately, narrative.

Bourdin gained the confidence of Man Ray who accepted him as a protégé. 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. Guy worked as well for Harper’s Bazaar. He shot ad campaigns for Chanel, Charles Jourdan, Pentax, Bloomingdale’s, Issey Miyake, Gianni Versace, Loewe and Emanuel Ungaro. He is considered as one of the best known photographers of fashion and advertising of the second half of the 20th century.

“While conventional fashion images make beauty and clothing their central elements, Bourdin’s photographs offer a radical alternative.”TATE

© Estate of Guy Bourdin
© Estate of Guy Bourdin
Since his mother abandoned him shortly after his birth in Paris in 1928, the boundaries between his art and his personal life became increasingly blurred. It was many years later that Bourdin saw his mother again, barely recognizing her when she arrived at the Parisian restaurant his grandparents owned. But the glamorous, red-haired woman he saw clearly made a big impression on him.
Bourdin refused to talk to his mother, and the two were forced into conversation by being locked in a telephone booth in the restaurant’s basement. This would explain, perhaps, the reason why a portion of his work utilizes small sets to induce feelings of claustrophobia and suffocation.

© Estate of Guy Bourdin
“Did I think it was wrong that his pictures were some kind of macabre…but I see them with a different eye you know, I see them as photographs. Do they really know about his life and the reason of those pictures is because something terrible happened? No they don’t. I knew him for that moment. I didn’t really know what had gone before, obviously what was to come of the several tragedies in his life.” – Grace Coddington words in ‘Dreamgirls’

Bourdin had a tumultuous personal life. Many of his ex-girlfriends and wives either killed themselves (or attempted to kill themselves). A lot of people say that is what inspired a lot of his macabre, strange obsession with death and sexuality.


© Estate of Guy Bourdin
Guy Bourdin never exhibited his photos or produced a book in his lifetime. He refused to make prints for collectors, and hated any form of public attention. He even refused the Grand Prix National de la Photographie when it was offered to him, because he didn’t believe in their standards.
His work is collected by important institutions including Tate in London, MoMA, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Getty Museum.

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