The rich and colourful imagery of French photographer Guy Bourdin (1928-1991) will be familiar to anyone with an interest in fashion and advertising photography and the history of twentieth-century magazines.
Bourdin’s work was provocative and often surreal and he is regarded as having helped change the landscape of fashion imagery through his use of narrative, composition and theatrical sets.
Bourdin’s most celebrated work was arguably for the pages of French Vogue in the 1970s – his first commission for the title ran in the February 1955 edition – and in the range of imagery he created for the Charles Jourdan shoe brand.
But in the first of what publishers Steidl has planned as an eight-volume series covering the photographer’s complete works, Untouched offers a glimpse of the young Bourdin at work in the early 1950s.
At this time Bourdin’s mentor was none other than Man Ray, who initially took some convincing to meet with the photographer. The veteran artist eventually wrote an introduction for the catalogue of Bourdin’s first photography exhibition in 1952 and his influence on the eye of the self-taught photographer was considerable.
The collection of works in Untouched spans just five years (1950-55 ) and sheds light on his experiments from these years.
Shelly Verthime, co-editor of Untouched, says that it was during this fertile period that Bourdin was forming a “poetic portrait of Paris, a subtle visual research, questioning reality, playing with the viewer’s gaze”. These are images that would mark his future development and artistic voice, she says.
For those interested in the development of Bourdin’s work, these are rare pictures, too. A Kodak box that was discovered in the photographer’s archives housed the negatives and contact prints, sometimes complete with cropping guides, Verthime explains.
“Untouched for fifty years were rare, intimate, personal, and authentic reflections of Guy Bourdin’s broad visual interests before he started his commercial career as a photographer,” she says. “What are we being shown? What do we see? Sometimes it is at first difficult to tell, since the subjects can appear so unassuming.”
While the subject matter of many of these pictures may seem mundane compared to the people and places he documented during his years in high fashion, they show the beginnings of a precocious and distinctive creative talent.
Guy Bourdin: Untouched is published by Steidl (€55). Creative Direction by Pascal Dangin. Edited by Shelly Verthime. Essay and Chronology by Philippe Garner. See steidl.de