I am going to assume that you are into fashion photography, and if you are, I am going to assume that you undoubtedly know the groundbreaking work of the French photographer Guy Bourdin. And even if you don’t know the name, you’ve seen the photos, the sexy without being cheap, the playful without being tacky images in which color burst off the page, the perspective questioned the conventional wisdom of your line of sight, and the careful staging bespoke the fact that photography is way more complicated than simply pressing the shutter button.
Bourdin’s influence on fashion photography cannot be estimated. For three decades, until his death in 1991, he was an integral part of Vogue Paris, where he produced a staggering amount of iconic images. But in case you wanted to know Bourdin before he became “the” Bourdin, the German art book publisher Steidl has recently published a new monograph on Bourdin’s photography from 1950 to 1955. This is the first book in a series that will encompass Bourdin’s complete oeuvre, and it’s a great start on that long road.
The monograph’s 256 pages contain 166 black and white photos. Black and white Bourdin photos, now there is something to produce cognitive dissonance. And those made in 1950 seem fairly conventional snapshots of Parisian life, perhaps influenced by Eugene Atget and Henri Cartier-Bresson. But, by 1955 Bourdin’s departure into his own territory looks pretty clear, especially in his play with perspective and staging.
Success came pretty early for Bourdin. In 1952 there was the first exhibit of his photos in Paris, and he was only twenty-four. The introduction to the exhibit’s catalogue was written by none other than Man Ray. In 1955 Bourdin produced his first shoot for Vogue Paris. The rest is history that will now be told in great detail by Steidl and his long-time collaborator Pascal Dangin. I look forward to the future installments, and UNTOUCHED is a great start.
Guy Bourdin: Untouched – SteidlDangin ($65). All images courtesy of the publisher