Who would dare to forget the extreme and extraordinary excellence of photographer Guy Bourdin? Definitely not i-D and certainly not Shelly Verthime, who has edited ‘In Between’, a new monograph, published by Steidlangin.
The book includes over 300 remarkable iconic images and serves as a pivotal volume in the posthumous investigation and rediscovery of the true genius behind the French bad boy’s always erotically provocative, indisputably memorable risqué oeuvre. Guy Bourdin, who worked as a self-taught painter and photographer his entire life, is often labelled one of the most important visual artists of modern times and, indeed, as the critic Elisabeth Mahoney has noted, Bourdin was “a key player in the transformation of fashion photography from being about the product to emphatically being about the image”. He “constructed scenarios of sexual danger and sadistic allure, voyeuristic thrills and murderous passion. Female bodies of mannequin stillness and corpse-like chill feature in what look like stills from a soft-porn film directed by Hitchcock at his darkest”.
Bourdin began his career with still and landscape black and white photographs (1950-1957) that were shot on the streets of Paris and Normandy, where he had spent much of his childhood. Later, he became internationally renowned and celebrated (and often and still copied) because of his work, mainly his outstanding editorials for French Vogue. “The book’s title was chosen to reflect the layers and dualities of this body of work where in between reflections, refractions, and multiplications, the viewer discovers images within images, a world within a world,” Verthime writes. In Between “demonstrates Guy Bourdin’s unique conceptual and formal engagement with the double page spread. His first published image for French Vogue, 1955, stands firmly as one of the most daring fashion images of the 20th century and determines the formal elements that would immediately stamp his signature all the way to his last photograph for The Best magazine in 1989. Bourdin died in 1991.
The early 50s were the only years in Guy Bourdin’s life when he actively sought to exhibit his photographs and by the mid 50s, his works had moved from gallery walls to the pages of magazines. With that in mind, and to accompany the book’s release, Verthime has savvily curated, in collaboration with Bourdin’s son, Samuel, an exhibition, also called In Between, currently on view at the Payne Whitney Mansion (home to the Cultural Services of French Embassy) in New York. The show, which features 30 rarely-seen black and white Bourdin prints, as well as a slide show of the gorgeous colour images from the book, offers viewers a new and fresh glimpse into Guy Bourdin’s surreal narrative that evolved throughout the artist’s career. As the independent curator and cultural historian Charlie Scheips writes in his intriguing introduction to In Between, “The camera was Guy Bourdin’s brush and the magazine his canvas. Fashion and photography were enriched because he insisted in following his own brilliant, if sometimes troubled and enigmatic quest”. It’s impossible to disagree.
‘In Between’, the book, published by Steidldangin, is in stores now. The exhibition ‘In Between’ is on view at the Payne Whitney Mansion/Cultural Services of the French Embassy, 972 Fifth Avenue, New York, until 10th December.