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Moroccan actress Asmaa Khamlichi, a long-time collector of Guy Bourdin´s work, has opened the doors to her penthouse in St. Barths to share her most coveted images of the French photographer.
Grace Coddington recalls a photo shoot in which Guy Bourdin, having decided that the sea was not blue enough, asked his team to pour paint into the water. They kept adding brighter hues of blue, but the waves kept washing it away. Bourdin ended up canceling the shoot entirely.
Very few photographers have revolutionized fashion photography the way Guy Bourdin has. At first glance, his work screams saturated colors, perfect compositions and impeccable taste. However, strong visual impact was not enough for Bourdin.
He was a protegé of Man Ray and deeply influenced by surrealist painters such as Francis Bacon, Magritte or Balthus, as well as filmmaker Luis Buñuel. Just as the surrealists aimed to amuse as much as to intrigue, Bourdin created images that captivated the regard and enticed the viewer to look deeper and create his own account.
He imbued his photographs with an eroticism laden with sinister decadence in which glamour, excessive makeup and gloss would mix with fetishist elements. His voyeuristic images made the viewer feel they were witnessing a hidden, even perverse, moment.
Bourdin understood that the mere showcasing of a product in fashion photography was not enough to spark desire in the spectator. More than shooting a pair of shoes or a model, Bourdin was creating fiction. He would infuse his photographs with a narrative belonging to film noir.
He aimed at creating a yearning in the reader by submerging the product in an intriguing and destabilizing atmosphere with an undeniably seductive mise-en-scene. He was a master at instilling a sense of uncertainty and trepidation.
This uncertainty fascinated Francine Crescent, editor of Vogue Paris. Crescent relished photographs that delighted, intrigued and caused commotion. She gave the French photographer full rein to challenge existing canons of fashion photography in the 1960s.
It was Crescent who recommended shoe-designer Charles Jourdan to work with Guy Bourdin, setting the stage for a series of photographs that would transform the visual language of fashion advertising.
Just like the film directors of the French New Wave that were his contemporaries, Bourdin revered Hitchcock and was fascinated by the MacGuffin concept by which an inanimate object, usually unexplained, serves as a catalyst in the plot of a thriller. This was patent in Bourdin´s work for Jourdan in which the shoe became a trivial detail within a grander, imposing plot.
Bourdin worked on many other advertising campaigns for fashion houses such as Issey Miyake, Chanel, Loewe and Ungaro. Numerous creators today confess their admiration for Bourdin´s work such as Tom Ford, Marc Jacobs and Alber Elbaz.
For some, Bourdin´s work is perverse. For others it is proof of his sharp sense of humor and intellect. What everyone will agree on is that his work has profoundly impacted generations of photographers such as Jean-Paul Goude, Jean-Baptiste Mondino, Nick Knight, David LaChapelle, Mert and Marcus and Inez & Vinoohd, among countless others.
Despite the veneration he evoked, Bourdin shied away from public recognition and preferred to hide behind his work. In 1985 he turned down France´s prestigious Grand Prix National de la Photographie along with the monetary prize by sending the check back with a note succinctly responding, “Thanks for the sweets, but I have cholesterol.”
The exhibit is made possible thanks to the Louise Alexander Gallery and Art Saint-Barth, in collaboration with The Guy Bourdin Estate. Visit is by appointment only and can be arranged by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org