Guy Bourdin was a self-taught photographer who lived and worked in Paris. His career spanned more than three decades, from the early 1950s to the late ’80s, during which time he most famously shot for French Vogue and Charles Jourdan. But while he is largely celebrated for his triumphant colour work, Bourdin launched his career in black-and-white photography in the early ’50s.
Guy Bourdin: Untouched, brought together by publisher Gerhard Steidl and creative director Pascal Dangin, explores this largely unseen work and gives insight into the early development of Bourdin’s photographic eye. The carefully constructed images reveal his artistic motivation years before he began working on commercial assignments for Vogue and Femina.
Shelly Verthime, the book’s editor and curator, recounts the process of discovery: “A yellow Kodak box, a treasure found in the archive, filled with a series of brown paper envelopes that each contained a negative and with a corresponding contact print taped to the outside, often with cropping guides. Untouched for 50 years were rare, intimate, personal and authentic reflections of Bourdin’s broad visual interests before he started his commercial career as a photographer.”
What are we being shown? What do we see? Sometimes it’s at first difficult to tell, since the subjects can appear so unassuming.Yet here is his poetic portrait of Paris,a subtle visual research, questioning reality, playing with the viewer’s gaze, like the surrealists and the artists of the subjective photography school who so inspired him. The experiments are endless; these images, many of which were presented in his early exhibitions, are the studies that provided the structure for Bourdin’s illustrious future artistic signature.
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.