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Guy Bourdin- V&A Contemporary Space

17 April – 17 August 2003

The V&A is staging the first retrospective of Guy Bourdin, the influential photographer known for his intense and dramatic fashion photographs.

Bourdin’s high-profile years, in the 1970s, saw his images featured on the pages of top fashion magazines. Already in his mid forties by this time, his editorial and advertising photography broke with the conventions of fashion imagery in radical ways. His photographs of carefully staged narratives plunge the viewer into a fantasy world of glamour, pleasure, danger and suspense. Bourdin made it clear, as no other photographer before him had done, that we are seduced by the fashion image rather than the product the image promotes.

From the mid 1950s, Bourdin experimented and refined his distinct vision. At the same time as he produced his famous fashion images, he compulsively photographed and filmed his observations of the world in which he moved. The V&A’s exhibition brings together both these published and private aspects of his work for the first time.

The first room of the exhibition shows a selection of Bourdin’s editorial and advertising photographs from the peak of his career in the mid-to-late 1970s. Bourdin’s rare combination of talents, including his technical brilliance, and his impressive capability to stage precisely a dramatic scene, are revealed. They are filled with unresolved hints and allusions (a partially opened door, reflections, shadows, abstracted bodies) to the powerful narratives that obsessed him. These images will be shown as contemporary photographic prints by fashion and art’s leading printer Pascal Dangin.

Bourdin’s cinefilms, made on the sets of fashion shoots, are shown alongside these images and offer another perspective on what he searched for visually and emotionally in the area of fashion photography.

The second room of the exhibition offers a surprising view of Bourdin’s work. Within this room hundreds of his unpublished private images – polaroids, early black and white photographs, sketches, notes and slides – are assembled together. All the images shown here are devoid of human figures and of fashion. Together they reveal Guy Bourdin’s visual language and the motifs that recur throughout his work.

Guy Bourdin was born in 1928 and spent much of his youth living in post-war Paris. An assiduous observer of culture, he showed precocious artistic talent and fierce ambition. His innovative fashion photographs first appeared in French Vogue in 1954 and he continued to work mainly for the magazine for the next 30 years. His editorial fashion stories and advertising campaigns were of such daring and ingenuity that their impact on visual culture was almost instantaneous. His images have continued to be a source of creativity for many renowned contemporary photographers, stylists, art directors and artists. To coincide with the exhibition, Nick Knight has created short films of Bourdin’s private cinefilms for his web site, SHOWstudio.

A book entitled Guy Bourdin has been published by V&A publications, price £35.00, to coincide with this exhibition. This book is the first thorough investigation of Guy Bourdin’s compelling visions and includes in-depth essays by Laurence BenaÏm, Rosetta Brooks, Charlotte Cotton, Philippe Garner, and Shelly Verthime. It contains a breathtaking sequence of images including previously unpublished photographs and others not seen for over twenty-five years.

Guy Bourdin died in 1991.

The exhibition is supported by Canon.

Charlotte Cotton is the Curator of Guy Bourdin and is Curator of Photographs at the V&A. She has curated many successful exhibitions in the V&A and is the author of Imperfect Beauty, The Making of Contemporary Fashion Photographs (V&A Publications, 2000). Charlotte Cotton is currently writing Contemporary Photography for the Thames & Hudson World of Art series.

Guy Bourdin was conceived by Shelly Verthime, the External Adviser to this exhibition. Shelly Verthime is a cultural historian and also a creative consultant within the world of contemporary fashion in Paris.



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