The trip to the London Fashion Week was not only the perfect occasion to emerge in the vibrant world of British fashion design but also to catch up with London’s cultural scene and well set-up exhibitions, such as the UK’s biggest ever staged retrospective of Guy Bourdin’s pioneering and influential fashion photography work.
The show opens with the ‘Walking Legs’ series of photos that Guy Bourdin took on an assignment for the French shoemaker, Charles Jourdan, picturing the shoes on a pair of mannequin legs, which he drove around Britain. With a focus on the concept that the product is secondary to the image, he was able to turn the ordinary and functional into the extraordinary. Many of Bourdin’s best-known images were made for both editorial and advertising purposes. Bourdin developed a visually distinctive and consistent style of fashion photography. From Hollywood film Bourdin brought a sense of narrative and suspense to images that appear unresolved. This is certainly a major explaination for the strong eye-catchiness of his images. And from art he borrowed Surrealism’s principle of convulsive beauty to create photographs of products that disturb first, and then delight.
Curated by Alistair O’Neill and Shelly Verthime, the exhibition also reveals his work at large, from the spreads he realised for Paris Vogue between the 50′s and 80′s through unpublished shoots. We can witness both the pre-production stage and the final stage, with photos overlaid with instructions on how to crop them, testifying of the special agreement between the photographer and the iconic magazine to let him decide of his own layouts and final images.
Equally interesting are his fashion films – Bourdin was a pioneer in that field, filming his set alongside taking photos on some of his most famous editorials. Never before exhibited, they offer a glimpse into the very process of creating his imagery. As opposed to the often static, carefully staged model from the final product, these films show the girls playing with each other and laughing.
For two more week, 200 pieces taken out of his estate, from black and white shots to Polaroid test shots, contact sheets and previously unseen material, including his paintings, sketches and notebooks, are exhibited at Somerset House. This exhibition of Bourdin’s distinguished 40-year career should strongly be recommended to fashion photographers in search for inspiration, fashion photography enthusiasts, as well as Guy Bourdin’s admirers.
Guy Bourdin: Image Maker