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Guy Bourdin: A fetish for fashion

  • Staying out of the picture

    During the 1970s, he was as famous as Helmut Newton – but Guy Bourdin didn’t want his images to live outside the pages of a magazine. Refusing to sell, publish or exhibit his work, the French photographer has nevertheless gained legendary status in the 23 years since he died, aged 62. When rarely seen images from his archive were displayed at Paris Photo LA last weekend, the prints were snapped up by collectors. Shown here, they reveal why, despite his best efforts, Bourdin continues to be celebrated. (French Vogue, June 1986; Copyright The Guy Bourdin Estate / Courtesy Louise Alexander Gallery)

  • I’ll be your mirror

    Turning shoots into crime scenes, with chalk outlines and ghostly pale models, Bourdin had a peculiar vision that garnered comparisons with Stanley Kubrick and the Marquis de Sade. Credited with turning fashion photography on its head, he is feted by a new generation including Nick Knight, Steven Meisel and David LaChapelle. (French Vogue, March 1972; Copyright The Guy Bourdin Estate / Courtesy Louise Alexander Gallery)

  • Strange visions

    Bourdin’s photos featured regularly in French Vogue for more than 30 years (this image is from the May 1970 issue). From the start, it was about more than the clothes, often taking a Surrealist approach: for his first Vogue commission in 1955, he placed a model wearing a couture hat in front of a butcher’s market stall, five calves’ heads hanging from hooks above her. (Copyright The Guy Bourdin Estate / Courtesy Louise Alexander Gallery)

  • Haunted man

    Models with red hair and a flawless pallor were favoured by Bourdin, reminding him of his mother, who had abandoned him soon after birth. Vogue says that “In his photos, he re-created the same redheaded archetype again and again, shooting in claustrophobic spaces−cramped, seedy hotel rooms and bathrooms−as well as desolate landscapes.” (Charles Jourdan, summer 1974; Copyright The Guy Bourdin Estate / Courtesy Louise Alexander Gallery)

  • Following his heart

    Gallery owner and photographer Michael Hoppen told The New York Times: ''A lot of photographers will claim to be 100 percent original and say they never copied anyone else, but I think we're all proud to admit we copied Guy Bourdin.'' (Pentax calendar, 1980; Copyright The Guy Bourdin Estate / Courtesy Louise Alexander Gallery)

  • Eye opening

    Bourdin saw himself as an artist making a detour into the commercial world, according to The New Yorker, even becoming Man Ray’s protégé after repeated attempts to meet the American art photographer. “On six occasions in 1951 the 22-year-old Bourdin banged on Man Ray's door and each time was shooed away by the artist's wife, Juliet; the seventh time, Man Ray himself answered, and invited Bourdin in.”

  • Once upon a time

    Between 1964 and 1981, Bourdin created ad campaigns for the shoe designer Charles Jourdan, insisting on full artistic control. He is seen as influencing the movement within advertising away from product shots to images that told a narrative: a fan of Lewis Carroll, Bourdin demanded that giant Jourdan replicas be made for a 1966 shoot in New York – in one shot, a woman flees from police under the Brooklyn Bridge while clutching a huge yellow shoe. (Charles Jourdan, Summer 1977; Copyright The Guy Bourdin Estate / Courtesy Louise Alexander Gallery)

  • Model behaviour

    Bourdin demanded a lot from his models. According to The New York Times: “He'd make them dive in and out of swimming pools for days at a time. He'd balance them on a rock in the ocean during an electrical storm. He'd glue pearls all over their bodies so their skin could no longer breathe and they would black out.” Yet his former assistant Sean Brandt told The Guardian: "I never saw him being cruel. Guy would push his models, but only to get his vision recorded on celluloid." (Charles Jourdan, autumn 1977; Copyright The Guy Bourdin Estate / Courtesy Louise Alexander Gallery)

  • Taking the plunge

    Recalling Bourdin’s method of selecting models, his one-time assistant Icaro Kosak told The Telegraph: “He'd look at a girl and think, ‘Will she go all the way?’ Not sexually, but, ‘Will she hang from the ceiling with five bags of ice in her pockets?'” (Copyright The Guy Bourdin Estate / Courtesy Louise Alexander Gallery)

  • Death and laughter

    In a pre-digital age, Bourdin’s perfectionism required superhuman effort: he once tried to dye the sea deep blue, and assistants were asked to scour Paris to find a wall made of ‘the right kind of bricks’. He preferred shooting with a Hulcher 70, the camera used by NASA that captured 30 images a second with brilliant resolution. But it was about more than creating something flawless. In his introduction to Exhibit A, a book of Bourdin’s work published in 2003, the critic Luc Sante wrote: “For Bourdin, beauty never appeared without its accomplices death, filth, and laughter.” (Charles Jourdan, spring 1977; Copyright The Guy Bourdin Estate / Courtesy Louise Alexander Gallery)

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