Widely discussed and often referred to as ‘maudit’, Guy Bourdin is definitely one of the most interesting photographers of the last century as he somehow managed to subvert the concept of fashion photography. Deeply influenced by surrealism (Man Ray being his mentor) Bourdin expressed his obsession for the female figure in a deeply irreverent way by placing models in creepy landscapes, undressing them, turning them upside down, erasing half of their bodies leaving only legs and – most particularly – high heeled shoes. All this without ever losing the irony and the elegance of his signature style.
The French photographer was abandoned as a child by his mother, whom he remembers as a red haired, pale and heavily made up woman that he never truly forgave. This somehow explains the recurrence of models with red hair and the choice to place them in squalid, lonely and sometimes perversely violent settings. Despite his total lack of acceptance for tradition and schemes, in 1955 Guy Bourdin published his first, legendary photo shoot for Vogue Paris – for which he kept on working until 1987, often being given carte blanche.
In 1967 he started working for the shoe designer Charles Jourdan and the collaboration led to some of the most revolutionary campaigns ever seen up till then. Bourdin created fashion images where the picture was more relevant than the product itself: “Shoes are in the picture but it is not just a picture of shoes”.
Many are the anecdotes on Bourdin's terrible personality, his mean attitude towards models, his lack of patience and flexibility and also his ambivalent relationship with the fashion and art systems. For all his life he refused prizes, showed no interest in doing exhibitions or creating a personal archive, and demanded for all his works to be destroyed after his death. Only in 2001 his son, Samuel, succeeded in retrieving his father's work – which was scattered all around the world in a spectacular disorder – and in publishing Exhibit A, a collection of Bourdin's most significant works.
In Between and Untouched – both curated by Shelly Verthime – take us through a journey along the early years of the photographer's career. Whilst his first works are traditionally renowned for the intensity of colours, both of these selections are curiously enough entirely in black and white: an unexpected choice which highlights the more unknown aspects of his work.