A new era of fashion photography was ushered in by two men in the 1970s. Both were given carte blanche at Vogue and both played with themes of fetishism, glamour, misogyny and surrealism. Helmut Newton introduced the world to Porn Chic, while his colleague Guy Bourdin brought Dead Chic
to the public eye and continues to inspire from the grave.
Guy Bourdin's work is often categorized as a kind of disconcerting surrealism. His cinematic narrative style changed fashion photography forever, and his haunting images are difficult to forget. He was the first to create these complex narratives; he told intense stories then captured a single moment -- leaving the viewer aware that something was happening both before and after the particular image, but never knowing just what that was. He played with themes of sensuality, violence, surrealism and created unforgettable erotic nightmares.
Born in 1928 in Paris, Boudin desperately wanted to be an artist. He held a few exhibitions in the early 1950s of his work, but never achieved any success. While in the French airforce he was introduced to photography and quickly found his niche. His first images for French Vogue in 1955 led to a more than thirty year collaboration, where he eventually attained complete artistic freedom. His formal daring and supreme narrative power set him apart for the rest, and he is coined one of the best fashion photographers of the second half of the 20th century. His work shattered what the public expected of fashion photography, and his content knew no bounds.
He was obsessed with dark glamour. The suspense of his work is unparalleled and his macabre focus and artificial, glossy style presented an entirely different way of viewing humans. It is said
that his calling card is that of "the perverse aestheticization of violence" and he told people that his dream would be to shoot in a morgue, using the dead bodies as models. His work is strange and intentionally shrouded in mystery; there always exists a strong feeling of alienation. He understood how to exploit what moves the viewer; often inappropriate and always transgressive, Bourdin knew that the bizarre is what fascinates.
The man himself was surrounded by as much sinister mystery as his work. Rumors of cruelty swirled about with his demanding reputation. From being abandoned by his mother as a child to allegedly driving his estranged wife and other subsequent lovers to suicide, Bourdin worked with and lived in tragedy. After his wife hung herself he became obsessed with red heads, as she herself was one. The models who worked with him had to be somewhat masochistic and have very high endurance levels, he was famous for ill treatment of them and had a demanding, short-tempered reputation. His shoots often required heavy make-up, uncomfortable fetishist clothing and twists and turns that would make a contortionist think twice.
He was not a self-promoter, which is absolutely why his colleague Newton gained more fame when Bourdin's work was the more inspired of the two. He refused book deals, rejected exhibitions and claimed to want all of his work destroyed after his death. He never wanted his photographs removed from their original contexts, and thus avoided exhibits at all costs. It is this kind of no holds barred, art for the sake of art that revolutionizes an industry. Bourdin chased his own demons through his work and in the end produced images that are timeless in relevancy and power.