Guy Bourdin x Somerset House

By Jo Phillips

1029767The UK’s largest ever retrospective of one of the most provocative fashion photographers, Guy Bourdin, opens its doors to Londoners in Somerset House. The large space, curated by Alistair O’Neaill, contains over 100 works and unseen material gathered from the photographer’s estate. The photographs make up a visual trail that charts Bourdin’s 40-year long career from when he began as Man Ray’s prodigy until he became one of the most sought-after image-makers.


The exhibition will allow viewers to get a deep understanding of the photographer, who liked to plan out his shoots to the last detail through sketches, rehearsals, and polaroids, and how an image goes from production to publication.


Bourdin’s editorial and advertising images were stimulating. You forgot that you were looking at something presented for promotional reasons. It’s easy to become arrested by the art, the strangeness, and uncanniness. His visual story-telling inspires photographers like Tim Walker and Nick Knight. References to his images are very much present and relevant today.
The photographer found inspiration in films, the suspense they created through stills, and they way the framing were created. Bourdin adored stills, as it made you feel as though something had just happened, or something was about to happen. You can definitely sense this style in some of his work.
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Bourdin was also mesmerized by crime scenes and the composition of the images found on the front pages of news magazines. He would go as far as visiting crime scenes before the crimes were even resolved in an attempt to recreate the same thrilling atmosphere on his shoots.
Francois Nars was strongly drawn to Bourdin’s images and has been influenced by the image maker, which is why it made sense for the cosmetics brand to create a collection inspired by the photographer’s body of work.
Bourdin experienced the huge shift fashion photography went through with the changes in color and print. The color red is a prominent shade in the photographer’s work. In fact, some of the most iconic images that Bourdin is known for are the ones that have bold pillar box red in them. The colors he used had many purposes as they attracted the viewer’s attention, gave the image a certain aura of femininity, eroticism, and maybe even a sinister quality. He definitely knew how to tell a story through the vibrant colors he used.
This is a well-rounded retrospective as visitors will also see handwritten poems, short films, and paintings by Bourdin, making it easier to trace his evolution as an artist. After looking at all the works, it’s easy to see that Bourdin was fond of intimate creative relationships, as he worked closely with French fashion brand Charles Jourdan and was constantly working with Vogue Paris.


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