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Monday, July 09, 2018, 13:39
A New Light
By Zhang Yen
Monday, July 09, 2018, 13:39 By Zhang Yen

Discover the unseen early work of acclaimed French photographer Guy Bourdin

© The Guy Bourdin Estate, 2017

Though he’s most celebrated for his colour images shot for French Vogue and brands including Charles Jourdan, Issey Miyake, Chanel, Versace, Emanuel Ungaro and more, self-taught French photographer Guy Bourdin (1928–1991) launched his career in black-and-white in the early 1950s. Until quite recently, however, much of that period had gone unknown and unseen. 

Untouched, published by Steidl and digital artist Pascal Dangin, explores this body of work and gives insight into the early development of Bourdin’s photographic eye. Carefully constructed images that were initially conceived as an exhibition series reveal his artistic motivation, years before he began working on assignments for top titles including Vogue and Photo Femina, and convey striking graphic layouts and narrative cinematic portraiture. 

The later and more familiar periods of Bourdin’s work have been shown in numerous museums and galleries, notably the Tate Modern and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the National Museum of China in Beijing and the Getty in Los Angeles. But these images emerged from an unexpected treasure chest. A yellow Kodak box was discovered, within which were a series of brown paper envelopes that each contained a negative with a corresponding contact print taped to the outside, often with cropping guides. 

© The Guy Bourdin Estate, 2017

Untouched for 50 years, the images are intimate, personal and authentic reflections of Bourdin’s broader visual interests prior to his commercial career as a fashion photographer. There are poetic portraits of the city of Paris, in which Bourdin plays with the viewer’s gaze like the surrealists and the artists of the subjective photography school who so inspired him. His experimentation appears to be endless, as though his future artistic signature was as yet unformed or still nascent. 

Explains Philippe Garner, the long-time photography auctioneer and author of the book’s essay Unique Perspectives: “Though Guy Bourdin is widely acknowledged as an artist of exceptional inspiration, he has remained in many ways an enigma. His individual images can be compelling, disquieting, haunting; cumulatively, they constitute a strange, off-kilter, yet totally credible parallel universe – our recognisable world dramatically reconfigured through the powerful imagination of this artist. Untouched unveils a compelling narrative regarding his formative years. Painstakingly salvaged and dusted down, sorted and examined as the precious archaeological fragments that they are, these photographs illuminate the crucial first years of Bourdin’s image-making.” 

Dangin, the creative director of Untouched, assesses Bourdin thus: “My many years of working with some of the greatest photographers gave me the points of reference and a certain critical distance to appreciate Bourdin’s unique and avant-garde approach – his constant eye for detail, the visual metaphors that he managed to create, and the clues that he incorporated across his work to hold our attention and to propose an alternative way of engaging with a fashion image.”

© The Guy Bourdin Estate, 2017Guy Bourdin: Untouched
Published by Steidl

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