Guy Bourdin Study Visit

This was an interesting visit in that it was to see the work of a commercial (in both senses of the word) photographer.

The first area was devoted to his work for Charles Jourdan,  the fashion designer, for whom he produced advertising campaigns for shoes between 1967 and 1981.  It concentrated on a series called “Britain by Cadillac” in which Bourdin shot a series, outside the studio, using just mannequin legs:-

From Britain by Cadillac. There is a nice diagonal from the bus stop sign through the shelter to the shoes. It may perhaps have been more usual to omit the sign from the shot as it could be distracting but in this case the composition really works for me.



I liked the wit of some of the shots in the series and the composition of this shot using the steps is wonderful and the grey of the stone compliments the shoes. It appears from these shots that he used flash.


There is a great symmetry about this shot with the only difference being the colour of the shoes but note also how this colour difference is reflected in the bird ornaments.

The next area covered his editorial advertising work.  Reference prior to the visit was made to comparing him with Helmut Newton a contemporary of Bourdin and a who also worked for Vogue.  My view is that Bourdin’s images had more of a sense of humour about them, there is in a lot of his images a playfulness and a sense of the surreal, that I don’t find in Newton’s work.  in addition while Bourdin’s images have in some cases an erotic edge to them, they are never as overtly sexual as Newton’s.


There is a real sense of fun in his images as well as, in some cases, an erotic edge.


There were a few shots with images within images.


The work was displayed in the style of a movie photobook based, apparently on the style of those on Erich von Stronheim.


A selection of his magazine work.

What I found particularly interesting was the insight into how he pre-visualised and planned his shots;-


Drawing of proposed shot, rather like the storyboard of a movie. The somewhat haunting image of a boy is framed in the background while a woman (his mother?) is lying on the bed. It has an almost Omen like atmosphere to it.


The final shot in an advert (for Charles Jourdan shoes) in a magazine


The image displayed (top right)


It occurred to me that being a commercial photographer places a lot of constraints on you in terms of maintaining sellability and originality.  I wondered if Bourdin felt constrained by his success in terms of the work he could subsequently produce.  in other words did he feel restricted to maintaining a style, albeit a successful and visually striking one, to please his clients and continue to get income?

I enjoyed viewing his work and in particular liked his sense of humour.

One niggle I had with the exhibition, however, was that there did not appear to be any order in which the images were presented.  For me I would have liked to have seen how his work progressed/altered as a result of both his development, and the changes demanded by the medium he was operating in.




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