Drop Dead Gorgeous
The Fashion Photography of Guy Bourdin
French Photographer Guy Bourdin was one of the world’s most famous fashion photographers. Today, almost thirteen years after his death he is remembered as one of the most influential image makers of our time. His compelling, hypnotic and disturbing images of 1970’s and 1980’s fashion abandoned the constraints and traditions of ‘reality’ fashion advertising and paved the way for staged photographs steeped in theatricality.
Rather than depicting famous shoes or advertising products as the icon or motif, Bourdin was fascinated by the trashy tragic magic of the beautiful-often faceless- models who inhabit his photographs. Bourdin reveled in their deepest psycho-sexual worlds and his clients- including Bloomingdale's and shoe magnate Charles Jordan- lapped his sado-chic style feverishly for over two decades.
The groundbreaking work of Guy Bourdin is the subject of a vast survey exhibition that relocates his extraordinary legacy of commercial photography within the context of art history. His brooding and anarchic images proliferate with death pouts, white skin, rigor-mortis-glam and razor sharp cheek bones. He conjured images that have inspired a new generation of artists and commercial photographers who prefer to stage photography rather than employ it as a reality byte . Fashion photographers like Steve Meisel and visual artists like Cindy Sherman, Bill Henson and Tracey Moffat all nod to Bourdin.
Bourdin adored the Surrealists- Magritte, Dali and Meret Oppenheim- and photographers like Lee Miller who delved lock, stock and camera barrel into the narcotic realm of dreams, nightmares, phantasms and the meta-metaphysical. Bourdin was especially influenced by his mentor, Man Ray. During the 1920's Man Ray was prolific artist and leading exponent of New York and Paris Surrealism who- in time- earned added notoriety and controversy as a long standing contributor to fashion magazines like French Vogue during the 1950’s.
Like Man Ray and the Surrealists, Bourdin was captivated by the morbid, the abject, by the horrors of hallucinogenic reverie and the darkest magic of dreams. He cast his models into settings that were as moist as wet dreams and as evocative as daydreams. The beautiful men and women were strewn asunder in high fashion garments and shoes. If their faces were not concealed by something resembling a mask or a prop, their gaze was amphetamine addled. It was always that day after narcotics look that Bourdin emulated; coming down hard after a night at Studio 54, the Roxy Music after party, the Andy Warhol Soho opening. The fictions he created with the lens had more to do with the imaginary, the possibilities for dramatic tension than they did with advertising jargon or commercial spin of the day.
Like his Surrealist forebears Bourdin turned his nose at the elitism of fashion photography; its unrelenting pictorialism, it's conservative images, it's dreary realities. He was influential amongst peers likes Helmut Newton, Herb Ritts and Sarah Moon. His inspiration is ever unfolding. His style and form appropriated by Madonna’s artistic team her recent 2003 America film clip, a clever juxtaposition of Dubbleya's conservativism and war propaganda with a kinky hybrid world, the underbelly of Middle America.
If you adore intoxicating exhibitions do a line with Bourdin.
16 March – 6 June 2004
Guy Bourdin is presented by L’Oréal Paris and the L’Oréal MelbourneFashion Festival. In association with Vogue Australia and Qantas.
Admission: Adult $10; Concession $7; Family $23.50 NGV Members Adult $5; Family $11.25