The Images and Influence of Guy Bourdin

Charting the 40-year Career of the Enigmatic Fashion Photographer

4. Charles Jourdan, Spring 1976 © Guy Bourdin
Remembered as one of the most distinguished figures of twentieth-century fashion photography, Guy Bourdin left a remarkable legacy of distinguished and revolutionary fashion photography behind him.

His work, from his professional debut for Paris Vogue in the 1950s, to his fashion films, transformed typical advertorial fashion photography into a richer, more exciting art form. Somerset House will be hosting the UK’s largest ever exhibition of the influential and enigmatic fashion photographer, featuring over 100 works and previously unseen material from his estate, covering his work from 1955 to 1987.

Bourdin’s distinctive style of visual storytelling remains a source of inspiration for a host of contemporary fashion photographers today. We spoke to Shelly Verthime, co-curator of the exhibtion:

The Plus: What kind of impact do you feel that Guy Bourdin has had on fashion photography as a craft?

Shelly Verthime: Bourdin was a true talent. Nothing was linear in his work and so is his legacy. Still today, his images are timeless and modern- beyond time and fashion. The images were always artistically constructed with a grid and paint-like compositions. Within these images he inserted his storytelling – the narratives where the product became secondary to the image and the story. In today’s world his signature style is instantly recognisable.

1. Charles Jourdan, Spring 1979 © Guy Bourdin
2. Charles Jourdan, Fall 1977 © Guy BourdinTP: As a fashion film pioneer, how did he help to shape that craft?

SV: The films were yet another sketch board for him, another medium that complimented his work. In the search for expression, the films were both a document of the work in progress and also offered the stories behind the stills. These 2 elements are the base for today’s fashion films that have become so popular, sometimes more so than fashion photographs.

TP: With 40 year career, there must have been a huge amount of images to choose from. What was the selection process like? SV: The wealth of the archive is indeed overwhelming. However, once the title of the exhibition Guy Bourdin: Image Maker was defined, the selection became a clear journey. Next to the material that Samuel Bourdin assembled for other exhibitions, we’ve added previously unseen material that compliments the existing artworks and offers new angles. Such as the series of the mannequins legs, shot in Britain in 1979, or the original French Vogue layouts – artefacts that are unfortunately disappearing in today’s digital era. Along with the films and the paintings, it is a completely new way of showing how visionary Guy Bourdin was in the world of image-making. It is also the largest-scale showcase of his work ever to have been seen before.

9. Charles Jourdan, Autumn 1979 © Guy Bourdin
8. Charles Jourdan, Autumn 1979 © Guy BourdinTP: What might visitors to the exhibition be surprised to learn about Guy?

SV: Today, many people remember Guy Bourdin for his colour images, the acid – hyper intense colours which he created with pre-digital technology and are stunning in their saturation. However, he was equally successful in the work he photographed in black & white with their interplay of lights and shadows during his career. It is a little known fact that half of his work was in b&w and half in colour. In addition, he had a clear artistic style both in the images he produced inside the studio or on landscapes shoots. The viewer can sense the process of work and the search for perfection in any medium he touched.

10. Charles Jourdan, Autumn 1979 © Guy Bourdin
11.Artist’s archive, 1979 © Guy Bourdin
3. Vogue Paris, May 1970 © Guy Bourdin
7. Charles Jourdan, Autumn 1970 © Guy Bourdin


Guy Bourdin: Image Maker opens at Somerset House 27 November 2014 – 15 March 2015.