Guy Bourdin (1928-1991) – Lens Work

Born in Paris in 1928, Guy Bourdin was abandoned by his mother whilst still an infant and brought up by his Grandparents. As an only child for much of his childhood, Guy absorbed himself in painting and sketching.

In his twenties, during his time serving in military service, Guy was able to use a camera for the first time and spent his time in the Senegal taking aerial photographs.

After returning to Paris, Guy was to work as a salesman selling lenses until he came across an image of a pepper by Edward Weston which inspired him to view photography as art. Later, Guy was to befriend Man Ray and become greatly influenced by the photographers’ surrealism. In the 1950s Bourdin launched his career by working for Vogue magazine. Maintaining complete control of the way the images were used, Bourdin tailored his compositions to the pages the on which they would appear.

Bourdin always used a great depth of field creating a slightly uncomfortable and provocative view of the models he chose and poses that were not always flattering. His use of vivid colours and untraditional placement of horizons helped to give Bourdin a unique and dark style of imagery inspired by Hitchcock films, creating an almost cinematic narrative of suspense in a pre-digital age.

In his advertising photography Guy is quoted as saying ‘The product is secondary to the image’ meaning the product can be within the story of the photograph instead of being at the forefront and standing out alone and is credited for changing the style of commercial imagery.

He shows that within the context of fashion, it is not the product that interests us, but the carefully staged narrative of fantasy, desire and our quest for the unattainable.


Campaigns shot by Guy Bourdin for Charles Jourdan in 1979 show his use of depth of field to maximise the narrative rather than the product.

References: ’Dreamgirls’-The Photographs of Guy Bourdin (1991)/







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