Guy Bourdin: Image Maker – Somerset House

Charles Jourdan, Autumn 1970 © Guy Bourdin courtesy of Somerset House
Charles Jourdan, Autumn 1970 © Guy Bourdin courtesy of Somerset House

Daring, surreal and erotic imagery filled with many pairs of legs, technicolor palette and women in oddly shaped positions, this can only be the work of non another than renowned fashion photographer, Guy Bourdin.

Opening this Thursday at Somerset House ‘Guy Bourdin: Image Maker,’ is set to be one of the UK’s largest retrospectives of the photographers work to date. Revealing over 100 works and previously unseen material from the photographer’s estate, from 1955 to 1987,  as well as early and late works in black and white that serve to challenge Bourdin’s reputation as a colour photographer.

This show – curated by Alistair O’Neill with Shelly Verthime – explores Bourdin’s 40 year career of the legendary Parisian fashion photographer’s work, paying homage to his never ending creativity, his ability to create complex narrative within everyday objects and how he produced timeless imagery that still resonates with us today.

Trained as a painter, Bourdin became a protégé of the surrealist artist Man Ray in the 1950s, and began to explore photography. By 1955 he made his first appearance in Vogue Paris. During this time fashion photography was mainly shot in black and white but Bourdin went about things in his own way and changed the course for conventional fashion photography in Vogue by using colour!

In 1979 Bourdin was commission by French fashion designer Charles Jourdan to work on a very interesting ad campaign, in which Bourdin took a road trip around the UK with just a pair of mannequin legs to hand and Jourdon’s shoes entitled ‘Walking Legs’ series – this became a revolutionary campaign. For the first time and in it’s entirety the series of images will be on show.

Bourdin’s editorial and advertising photographs represented a ‘golden era’ in the late twentieth century fashion photography. He saw opportunity in working within creating photographs to sell clothing, beauty and accessories which was considered in the fashion world as not top priority. Yet he made these ad’s exciting and rich by working with what he knows best, storytelling and forgetting about the product he was meant to be selling.

Alistair O’Neill commented by saying: “Traditionally within fashion editiotral there’s a higher demand on getting their best photographers to work on editional fashion stories like 8/10 pages centred around using the best clothes, many fashion editors see that story as being the heartland of the magazine. 

There are other kind of images which are traditionally perceived as being lesser; product shots, beauty shots, handbags, shoes, make-up, hair tend to fill the pages either side of the big editorial stories. Most photographers are not really interested in those kind of photographs. Their given to younger or lesser experienced photographers. Bourdin was an anomaly, he actually preferred those kind of lesser shots, he felt like it gave him a more controlled environment in order to push his creativy, like how do you renew the idea of photographing a pair of shoes on a models legs.”

Not only do you get to view the photographs of this iconic photographer but also on display are a range of other photographic materials: unique Polaroid test shots, double-page spread layouts, contact sheets and transparencies marked for composition that explore Bourdin’s craftsmanship as an image maker and the processes involved in producing unique and ground breaking imagery.

Please click here for further information and to book your tickets for the show.


Information courtesy: Somertset House