Guy Bourdin: Image Maker at Somerset House
By Theresa Yee

This week sees the opening of a new photography exhibition at Somerset House in London which focuses on the influential and enigmatic work of …

Nov 24, 2014
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This week sees the opening of a new photography exhibition at Somerset House in London which focuses on the influential and enigmatic work of Guy Bourdin.

The largest exhibition of its kind to be shown in the UK, it will feature over 100 pieces of his work, alongside previously unseen material, spanning the length of his 40-year career from Man Ray’s protégé to his independent work for the likes of Vogue Paris and Charles Jourdan.

Known for his editorial and advertising imagery, Bourdin turned the typical fashion photograph on its head by making the product secondary to the image itself – a style which still inspires the likes of Tim Walker and Nick Knight today.

Curated by Alistair O’Neill with Shelly Verthime, photographs will be shown alongside materials such as Polaroid shots, double-page spread layouts, contact sheets and transparencies marked for composition, which together show the true depth of his craftsmanship and image-making process in a pre-digital age. These will be accompanied by a selection of paintings, drawings, sketches and notebooks which take you through his compositional approach.

Recently released work from the archive includes ‘Walking Legs’ – a Charles Jourdan campaign series which will be displayed in full for the first time as a key feature of the exhibition. Shot in 1979, the two took a road-trip through the English countryside, using quintessential British scenes such as Battersea Power Station and Brighton’s seafront as back-drops for a 22 piece series.

Renowned for taking an avant-garde approach to his commissioned campaigns and editorials, Bourdin would not compromise on any aspect of his shoots, demanding full control of everything from the model’s hair and make-up through to the precise placement of images on the page. Such was his talent that even the top fashion houses and magazines didn’t deny him this wish.

Surprisingly though, Guy Bourdin did not take any active measures during his lifetime to preserve his archive of work, and actively turned down offers of exhibitions, books and accolades due to a belief that the photography market would not develop to encompass his commercial work. In one instance he even returned an open cheque, sent by American curator Sam Wagstaff, ripped up into pieces. This exhibition encompasses his legacy for him.

The exhibition is supported by NARS Cosmetics who have released a limited-edition make-up collection inspired by Bourdin’s photography which will be sold at Somerset House.

Guy Bourdin – Image Maker runs from November, 27, 2014 to March, 15, 2015.

Photography images: Guy Bourdin
Product images courtesy of Nars

-Emma Grace Bailey


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