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Exhibition Review: Guy Bourdin // Image Maker

The Guy Bourdin exhibition gives a compelling answer to an endless debate: is fashion photography also a type of art? I was genuinely tempted to answer no before going to Somerset House. The purist I can sometimes be was telling me that the images I see in Grazia or Elle could not be raised to the same consideration as Doisneau or Capa’s photography. Nonetheless, I am now convinced that Guy Bourdin is one of the great and this exhibition marvellously reflects how intertwined art and fashion can be. After all, photography is a main medium of the 21st century and fashion, with it’s different styles, offers a wide range of possibilities to experiment with. Fashion photography is not only commercial and you just have to open a magazine to see that not all fashion photographers are equally talented. Bourdin and other famous photographers have developed their unique genre which sets them apart from the ordinary. And I would not be going too far if I said that they might be the future equivalent of Rembrandt or Picasso in the painting world.

To illustrate what I have just stated, let’s see how close art and fashion are through my favourite piece of the exhibition:

Photo by Raphaelle De Beaumont

Photo by Raphaelle De Beaumont

Bourdin was born in 1928 in Paris. He was fascinated by Surrealism and became Man Ray’s protégé in the 1950s. This artistic influence is clearly visible in the photo from the “Walking Legs” series – a campaign commissioned in 1979 by the shoe designer Charles Jourdan. Here, Bourdin decided to use only the legs of the model as if the rest of her body were invisible. This surreal twist plunges the picture in a very enigmatic and intriguing atmosphere.

Secondly, it is obvious that Bourdin has a perfect mastery of colours and framing. The two legs are highlighted by the overall horizontality of the picture. It is worthwhile noting that Bourdin carefully prepared all the angles, the harmony of colours and the position of the elements composing his photography. In addition, while the picture is dominated by verdigrises’ shades, it is admirably brightened by the orange of the ‘5’ in the middle and the white block formed by the liner.

Finally, what makes Bourdin so original compared to his Grazia colleagues is that he goes beyond the simple enhancement of the product. The environment of the photo is as essential as the pair of shoes it is supposed to advertise. You are less fascinated by the shoes themselves than you are interested in whom the legs belong to and why this invisible woman is standing there staring at the horizon. The spectator is a viewer looking for narratives, overstepping the mercantilist purpose of advertisement.

In a word, Bourdin’s photography tells mysterious stories, sometimes in a provocative but always colourful way that is a pleasure for the eyes.

Now, still doubting that fashion is a form of art ?

Guy Bourdin: Charles Jourdan Advertisement

Guy Bourdin: Charles Jourdan Advertisement

‘Guy Bourdin: Image maker’ at Somerset House until the 15th March 2015. £7 for students.

At the end of the exhibition, a Nars make-up counter is waiting for you ladies !

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