Guy Bourdin

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Guy Bourdin
Born (1928-12-02)2 December 1928
Paris, France
Died 29 March 1991(1991-03-29) (aged 62)
Paris, France
Nationality French
Occupation Photographer, artist
Movement Surrealism, Fashion photography
Children Samuel Bourdin

Guy Bourdin (2 December 1928, Paris – 29 March 1991, Paris), was a French fashion photographer known for his provocative fashion images. Bourdin worked for Vogue and Harper's Bazaar, and shot ad campaigns for Chanel, Issey Miyake, Emanuel Ungaro, Gianni Versace, Loewe, Pentax and Bloomingdale's. His first retrospective exhibition was held at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London in 2003, and then toured the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, and the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume in Paris. He is since considered as one of the best known photographers of fashion and advertising of the second half of the 20th century. He set the stage for a new kind of fashion photography.

"While conventional fashion images make beauty and clothing their central elements, Bourdin’s photographs offer a radical alternative."[1]

Life and career[edit]

Guy Bourdin was born 2 December 1928 in Paris, France. His parents separated when he was an infant and he was sent to live with his paternal grandparents who owned a house in Normandy. His grandparents were also owners of a restaurant in Paris called Brasserie Bourdin. When his father, who was only 18 at the time of his birth, remarried, Bourdin was again under his care. Apparently Bourdin only saw his mother once when she arrived at the Brasserie to present him with a gift. Thereafter, his only communication with his mother took place in the side-by-side phone booths of the Brasserie where his participation would be ensured by a locked door. Bourdin was later to recall his impression of his mother as an elegant, red haired Parisienne with pale skin and relatively heavy make-up.[citation needed] At the age of eighteen Bourdin embarked on a cycling tour in Provence during which he met art-dealer Lucien Henry. Bourdin passed six months living at Henrys house where he concentrated on painting and drawing until it was time for his mandatory military service.

Bourdin was first introduced to photography during his service in the Air Force. Stationed in Dakar (1948–49), Bourdin received his initial photographic training, working as an aerial photographer. When he returned to Paris after his service, he supported himself with a number of menial jobs, including as a salesman of camera lenses and he also continued to paint, draw and take pictures. During this time he exhibited some of his drawings and also sought out the mentorship of American Ex-patriot and prodigious Surrealist Man Ray. According to the story Bourdin was turned away from Man Ray's door six times by his wife and on the seventh finally succeeding in gaining the artist's company when Man Ray himself answered the door and invited Bourdin in. Bourdin had indeed succeeded in gaining the confidence of Man Ray, who later wrote the catalogue for Bourdins first exhibition in 1952.

In 1950 he returned to Paris, where he met Man Ray, and became his protégé. Bourdin made his first exhibition of drawings and paintings at Galerie, Rue de la Bourgogne, Paris. His first photographic exhibition was in 1953. He exhibited under the pseudonym Edwin Hallan in his early career. His first fashion shots were published in the February 1955 issue of Vogue Paris. As a contemporary of Helmut Newton, who also worked extensively for Vogue, Bourdin helped establish what would come to be known as contemporary photography.[2] "Between him and me the magazine became pretty irresistible in many ways and we complemented each other. If he had been alone or I had been alone it wouldn't have worked." He continued to work for the magazine until 1987.

An editor of Vogue magazine introduced Bourdin to shoe designer Charles Jourdan, who became his patron, and Bourdin shot Jourdan's ad campaigns between 1967 and 1981. His quirky anthropomorphic compositions, intricate mise en scene ads were recognised as distinctly Bourdin-esque and were always eagerly anticipated by the media.[citation needed]

In 1985, Bourdin turned down the Grand Prix National de la Photographie, awarded by the French Ministry of Culture, but his name is retained on the list of award winners.[citation needed]


Bourdin's photographs are often richly sensual but also rely heavily on provocation and ability to shock. Additionally integrating erotic, surreal, sinister components— Bourdin configured a whole new visual vocabulary with which to associate the goods of haute-couture. The narratives were strange and mysterious, often plainly exhibiting violence and graphic sexuality. Evident through astute reading of his compositional and thematic presentation, Bourdin's profited from the influence of a diverse collection of contemporaries: first and foremost, his mentor Man Ray, Also the photographer Edward Weston, surrealist painters Magritte and Balthus, and Spanish surrealist filmmaker Luis Buñuel. Although less of a commercial success (and perhaps less aesthetically ambitious) than his colleague at Vogue, Newton, the legacy of Bourdin's images has had an equally profound impact on younger generations of fashion photographers up to the present day.

Because Bourdin's models "often appeared dead or injured", some critics have accused him of objectifying women. His photographs were described as "highly controlled" and "famous for a mysterious sense of danger and sex, of the fearsome but desirable, of the taboo and the surreal".[3]


Bourdin was not a natural self-promoter, and did not collect his work or make any attempt to preserve them; in fact he refused several offers of exhibitions, rejected ideas for books, and wanted his work destroyed after his death (but since he did not keep so much of his work for himself, most of it was saved). His photography only appeared in magazines because he "shunned" books, exhibits, and awards.[3] The first major book devoted to his work was Exhibit A, released ten years after his death.

Madonna's 2003 music video for "Hollywood" directed by Jean-Baptiste Mondino replicated several shots of photography of Bourdin, and a lawsuit was brought against her by Bourdin's son for copyright infringement.[4]

Dreamgirls: The photographs of Guy Bourdin, a documentary, was screened for the BBC in 1991.

Contemporary photographers such as Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott, Jean Baptiste Mondino, Nick Knight and David LaChapelle have admitted to being great admirers of his work.[5]


Bourdin 's work is held in the following public collections:



Selected exhibitions[edit]



  • 1954 C.S. Association UK touring exhibitions, in 1954–1955 and 1955–1957, both shown at the Whitechapel Gallery, London.
  • 1957 "Vogue" at the International Photography Venice Biennale in Venice, Italy.
  • 1969 "L'insolite et la mode" at Galerie Delpire, Paris.
  • 1977 Touring exhibition called "The History of Fashion Photography" shown at U.S. venues including the International Museum of Photography, George Eastman House, Rochester, NY, and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA.
  • 1978 photokina 1978, Cologne, Germany.
  • 1981 Exhibition, Rencontres de la photographie, Arles, France.
  • 1982 "Color as Form" at the International Museum of Photography, George Eastman House, New York, NY.
  • 1986 photokina 1986, Cologne, Germany.
  • 1988 Triennale International de la Photographie, Paris.


External links[edit]