The Mad Genius of Guy Bourdin

"Was Guy Bourdin’s flirtation with oblivion self-prescribed?"

Date October 11, 2012 at 2:43 PM

Publication THE magazine

Categories Art Markets & Galleries Culture

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Guy Bourdin rarely published and exhibited his work during his lifetime; the transient format of the fashion magazine was his preferred outlet. In the pristine, glossy pages of Vogue Paris, Bourdin was given total freedom to write his own visual book of dreams, nightmares and satire. With a prophetic eye to the future, he crafted complex storylines charged with energy, mystery, and seduction—key ingredients of the Surrealist love potion to which he fervently aspired.

Bourdin began his career as a fine artist, but a symbiotic relationship with the camera forever defined his métier. The cinematic quality of the still image gave him room to experiment with greater latitude and range of expression. With a discerning and calculated eye, he unleashed imagery imbued with personal notions of death, beauty, mystery, humor, grit, luxury and desire. 

Product placement seems almost incidental at times, but the illicit visual seduction remains irresistible and deliciously intoxicating. His wild imaginings and unorthodox approach revolutionized commercial photography as we know it. Bourdin reached unprecedented notoriety during the self-involved, oversexed, more-is-better decade of the 1970s. There was tremendous furor every month when Vogue Paris hit the newsstands. The outrageous and inventive editorials always caused a sensation, while the revolutionary and provocative advertising campaigns for Charles Jourdan, Dior, Gianni Versace, Issey Miyake, Emanuel Ungaro, Gianfranco Ferré, Claude Montana and Bloomingdale’s set new benchmarks for the industry.

Bourdin died of cancer in 1991, quietly ending a successful thirty-six-year career. He was 62 .“Missing” should have been Bourdin’s epitaph. After his death, he remained an enigma. Wild stories, rumors and gossip were the stuff of supermarket tabloids. Meanwhile, private collectors made shady deals for any of the rare prints that surfaced on the market. Unfortunately, while Bourdin continued to be revered by the industry cognoscenti, to the next generation he simply ceased to exist.

In 2001, "Exhibit A," the first book of his photographs, was published and a new era began for Bourdin. The landmark 36-year retrospective volume reclaimed his rightful place in the history of contemporary photography and the visual arts. Since then, many new books have been published and museums and galleries all over the world now exhibit and market the work of the prolific and controversial genius. And so it is that Guy Bourdin, the dark prophet who once flirted with oblivion, now lives, permanently, in the future.

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