Research notes – Guy Bourdin

Guy Bourdin (1928 – 1991) was a French photographer.

Famous for his fashion shots, Bourdin was particularly interesting as a photographer in as much as he used, while alive, magazine and advertising photographs (ie, what we would normally considered his professional work) almost exclusively as the medium for his artistic expression. While one would perhaps see this as nothing out of the ordinary, after all, even when shooting professionally one always expects a certain aesthetic to be maintained as the photographer’s distinguishing style; Bourdin commissioned photographs were heavily charged with social commentary, or even in direct contradiction with the promotion of goods (which one would consider to be the primary goal of advertisement). One gets the impression that in the end his primary consideration was the concept behind the pictures, rather than the specific promotion that the commissioned work was supposed to undertake (see for instance these examples from the Charles Jourdan campaign here and here, which purport to be advertisements for women’s shoes). Bourdin photographs contain, in many cases, direct or subtle elements of violence, often accentuated by the use of saturated primary colours (see previous examples, but also here and here) which are in direct contrast with the glamour one would expect from fashion photographs and which generates uneasiness  in the viewer.

Bourdin is particularly famous for his colour work, which was often overly saturated and full of contrast (see . It is fascinating how much he managed to achieve with a medium that, according to many, offered less control over output and manipulation than B&W before the advent of digital photography. His black and white photographs, while lesser known, are equally full of symbolism and veiled social critique as his latter colour work.

“Guy Bourdin was an image maker, a perfectionist. He knew how to grab the attention of the viewer and left nothing to chance. He created impeccable sets, or when not shooting in his studio rue des Ecouffes in le Marais, in undistinguished bedrooms, on the beach, in nature, or in urban landscapes. The unusual dramas that unfold in these seemingly everyday scenes and ordinary encounters pique our subconscious and invite our imagination. Moreover, he developed a technic using hyper real colours, meticulous compositions of cropped elements such as low skies with high grounds and the interplay of light and shadows as well as the unique make-up of the models.”(1)

Again, preparation of all the photographic elements in advance seems to be a recurring feature. It is not surprising given that Bourdin’s background was fashion photography, that requires meticulous preparation of every aspect.

Many of Bourdin’s photographs show only parts of women, particularly legs and torsos. The faces are missing or obstructed in many of these pictures, devoiding Its subjects of identity and reducing them, quite literally, to the minimum required to sell a product (in this case footwear). This is particularly poignant in a series of picture of legs, cut under the knees, walking down the streets (see here, for instance). Bourdin may be deliberately doing this to objectivise its subjects, perhaps as a commentary on the fashion industry or society’s attitude towards women. The point is more directly made in one of his black and white prints entitled “Polaroid” (1978), in Which a woman appears to be part of a property for lease (see here).


(1) Bourdin, G. (2016) Guy Bourdin – Louise Alexander Gallery. Available at: (Accessed: 21 September 2016).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s