Guy Bourdin (1928-1991) was an obsessed man. And that is to put it slightly. Working for Vogue, he made his heavily made-up models twist to uncomfortable positions in surreal, absurd, gloomy images. He loved red-haired women - who reminded him of his long-lost mother. His estranged wife committed suicide by hanging herself.
Guy Bourdin's pictures haven't been publicly displayed for twenty years since he didn't want to separate them from their original context for exhibitions or books. Whereas Helmut Newton's pictures for Vogue were stylishly monochrome and sadomasochistically erotic, Bourdin let his glaring and bright colours do the talking. Both Newton and Bourdin have been accused of misogyny. Both photographers competed in trying out the endurance of their models. The images are flooding with fetishistic elements, high-heel shoes, corsets and skin-tight leather outfits. Women twist in doll-like make-up and most curious postures. When one of the models said that his images almost resemble pornography, Bourdin snapped: "Don't make me laugh, this is art."
The cinematic narrative of Bourdin's images has something reminiscent of Cindy Sherman's photographs. It felt like something had already happened before the picture and would happen even after that. The pictures had certain suspense in them.
Guy Bourdin's reputation was that of a difficult and demanding person, and one of his former models admits that it took a bit masochistic character to be able to work for him.
Hermit-like Bourdin was more into tragedies than happy endings, which could often well be detected from his photographs; even those seemingly most filled with sunshine always had a slightly macabre tone, combining death and glamour. It has been said of Guy Bourdin that he was a complex personality and a gloomy genius who had just chosen a ladies' magazine as his way of expression.
This is what David Bowie's got to say about Bourdin:
"Since the advent of AIDS and the new morality, and, of course his death, his dark sexy fatal style had fallen out of Vogue. An uncompromising photographer, he had found a twisty avenue through desire and death. A white female leg sticking gloomily out of a bath of black liquid enamel. Two glued up babes covered in tiny pearls. The glue prevented their skins from breathing and they pass out. 'Oh it would be beautiful,' he is to have said, 'to photograph them dead in bed.' He was a French Guy. He had known Man Ray. Loved Lewis Carroll. His first gig was doing hats for Vogue. He'd place dead flies or bees on the faces of the models, or, female head wears hat crushed between three skinned calves heads, tongues lolling.
What was this? Fine Arts? The surrealists might even think his work passé. Well, it was the `50s, that's what it was.
The tight-collar `50s seen through unspeakable hostility. He wanted but he couldn't paint. So he threw globs of revengeful hatred at his nubile subjects. He would systematically pull the phone cord out of the wall. He was never to be disturbed. Disturbed. Never. Everything and everyone died around him. One shoot focusing pon a woman lying in bed was said to be a reconstruction of his estranged wife's death. Another picture has a woman in a phone booth making some frantic call. Her hand is pressed whitely against the glass. Behind her and outside are two female bodies partially covered by the autumn leaves. His dream, so he told friends, was to do shoots in the morgue, with the stiffs as mannequins. I don't know. I just read this stuff. Now his spirit was being resurrected. We're mystified by blood. It's our enemy now. We don't understand it. Can't live with it. Can't, well... y'know?"
An excellent Guy Bourdin site @ fsnet.co.uk
Guy Bourdin @ eracle.it
Dreamgirls: The Photographs of Guy Bourdin
Guy Bourdin @ Jahsonic
Guy Bourdin @ MySpace
Guy Bourdin films & videos @ YouTube
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