Guy Bourdin : Desire & Death in Photo


Guy Bourdin was born in Paris on the 2nd of December 1928. His father was Spanish and his mother Belgium. His parents separated when he was still an infant and his father still only 18. He went to live with his paternal grandparents who had a house in Normandy and a restaurant in Paris named Brasserie Bourdin. His father remarried and Guy moved back with him and his step-siblings. Under the Guise of doing his homework he would sketch on the napkins. There were two telephone booths side by side in the Brasserie Bourdin and every time mother called, his father or stepmother would lock him in one of them so he could speak to her. This made him terribly angry in later life and he would often tell this story. He only saw her once. she came into the restaurant and gave him a present. His abiding memory was of a made-up elegant Parisienne with pale skin and pale red hair. Hence the reason why women with pale skin and red hair haunted his pictures years later.


BOURDIN who died in March of 1991, at the age of sixty-two is, unlike his contemporaries Richard Avedon and Helmut Newton, scarcely known to the general public; within the worlds of photography and fashion, however, he is something of a legend.


When Bourdin was at his best, as in the pages of French Vogue or in his many campaigns for Charles Jourdan shoes, he managed to imbue photographs intended for selling clothing, cosmetics, and perfume with the preternatural vividness of dreams, and he did so with stunning technical virtuosity. Philippe Garner, a senior director at Sotheby’s and a respected expert on fashion and commercial photography, says, “There had been nothing like him in the history of fashion photography. Irving Penn’s work is infused with respect for women. There’s a sexual element in Avedon, though there is a lot else going on, too. But what you see in Bourdin is the linking of two great themes, desire and death. That’s what makes the work so disturbing. It’s as if he hijacked the medium for his own personal uses. He can be as suffocatingly intimate as Diane Arbus – you feel you have to come up for air.” The photographer Albert Watson says simply, “Guy was the closest thing to a fine-art photographer that this business has produced.” – from 1994 New York Times article. Read full article here.