Guy Bourdin died on March 29, 1991. Since then his reputation has grown, even though he refused to publish books about his work during his life and only started exhibiting in 1953 under a pseudonym and with an introduction by Man Ray.
A decade ago, Bourdin received his first retrospective at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. The exhibition traveled to museums in Australia, China, Japan, Germany, France, Russia, and Brazil. This is remarkable for a photographer who was not renowned for being a self-promoter and less that fastidious about the preservation and the loss of his entire work. I was extremely surprised when I discovered that he only had one show in the United States, In Between, at the French Consulate in New York in 2010.
Guy Bourdin, Sighs and Whispers, plate 30, 1976 (426.1982)
Although his main archives are in New York and Paris–he worked for Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar from 1955 until 1987–his work is still unknown to many North Americans. Bourdin, like Helmut Newton during those same years, obtained carte blanche from Francine Crescent, the third editor-in-chief of Vogue Paris from 1968 through the 1970s and 1980s. It wasn’t very easy for Crescent to get the Condé Nast editorial staff to accept Bourdin’s work of his surreal, provocative, and erotic style. Her fame as a prescient and groundbreaking editor is strongly linked to the fact that she had chosen him as one of her protégés.
Guy Bourdin, Sighs and Whispers, plate 9, 1976 (418.1982)
After the photographer had published his first editorial fashion photographs for British Vogue in 1974, the New York City department store Bloomingdale’s hired him to shoot its lingerie catalogue in 1976. Sighs and Whispers was the name of the catalogue and it featured three models: Rita and the Dickinson sisters, Janice and Debbie. The catalogue contained thirty-six color photographs in a style that reflected Bourdin’s interest in the mystery and the obscurity of the night rather than his quirky and flashy compositions.
Guy Bourdin, Sighs and Whispers, plate 20, 1976 (423.1982)
It is his unconventional use of color, close-up shots, unrealistic settings, and surreal aseptic contexts that characterize and distinguish his style. In all his work, Bourdin pays tributes to photographers and makes stylistic references to the contemporary art world. The atmosphere in these and other photos is often similar to that of the surrealist paintings of René Magritte. As Magritte enriched our understanding of time in his famous The Empire of Light painting, which juxtaposes daytime skies and night scenes in the same image, Bourdin uses his artistic imagination and enigmatic language to enrich our understanding of fashion.
Guy Bourdin, Sighs and Whispers, plate 36, 1976 (429.1982)