by Laura Bradley .

Unseen Guy Bourdin

French Vogue, September 1972
Charles Jourdan, Summer 1975
From Bourdin's Archive, September 1972

Following Thursday night's preview of 'Unseen Guy Bourdin' at The Wapping Project, the exhibition opened its doors to the public today. Showcasing thirty-two of the late fashion photographer's images, printed and exhibited for the first time outside context of Bourdin's Estate. Throughout his lifetime, Bourdin always preferred to show his editorial and campaign shots in the context for which they were intended: a magazine, usually insisting on a double page spread. Having never shown any interest in the work being published in books or exhibited in a gallery, it was only after his death in 1991 that his contribution to the history of fashion photography was enabled to be fully celebrated; in the V&A's 2003 retrospective and our accompanying Compulsive Viewing project revealing an edited selection of films from Bourdin's archives. Previously unseen, these ten brilliant films expose Bourdin's grasp of the moving image; a standout example of how a photographer's vision translates to film, whilst still maintaining the qualities of their stills work. Launched in April 2003 to coincide with the V&A's opening, Compulsive Viewing reflects SHOWstudio's continued commitment to pioneering the medium of fashion film: we have since authored a number of fashion film-focused projects including three major film series and an exclusive in-depth exploration of photographer Erwin Blumenfeld's film archive.

Curated in collaboration with Phillips de Pury & Company, the executors of his estate, the current 'Unseen Guy Bourdin' is the first selling exhibition of the influential photographer's work. The works, created from the original transparencies, are a powerful demonstration of Bourdin's radicalism both in their aesthetic and technical accomplishment; Bourdin shot on 35mm transparencies, well before the luxuries of digital post-production. The exhibition is a visual feast, playing host to a number of editorials created for French Vogue in the late 1970s and 1980s, a succession of controversial campaigns for Charles Jourdan alongside unpublished archive images. Nearly all of them featuring the archetypal pale-skinned, crimson-lipped, full-breasted, red nail polish-wearing Bourdin woman. One of his favourites, a striking brunette called Nicolle Meyer, was invited to give a short speech before the exhibition's grand opening on Thursday evening. Discovered by Bourdin aged only seventeen, Meyer posed frequently between 1977 and 1990, starring in the Jourdan shoe campaigns, shoots for Vogue, the 1980 Asahi Pentax calendar and previously unpublished works, including a cropped shot of a seated, unclothed Meyer with a lightbulb clamped between her thighs. The Wapping Project's cavernous interior provides a fittingly dark backdrop for Bourdin's intense narratives. Formerly a disused hydraulic power station, the exhibition space has been dressed with an Astroturf floor - a reference to the omnipresent grass in Bourdin's controlled environments. The central space is occupied by an intimate square of the exhibition's most erotically charged work, complete with its own seated viewing area. The pièce de résistance, an end room dramatically displaying a standalone piece: Bourdin's Surrealist-inspired image featuring a silhouette with a heavily made-up violet eye peering through a peephole.

'Unseen Guy Bourdin' at The Wapping Project runs until 4 July 2009.


  1. 5TUD10S
    10:36 11 May 2009
    A great little write up, on a memorable night.
  2. KaWai
    21:52 11 May 2009
    Guy Bourdin's images were very unique, if Hemlut Newton created dark fantasies of sex and fashion, then Guy BOurdin's work were borderline nightmarish of sex and fashion. He was a bit obsession of certain looks.
  3. brownbunnybyiris
    21:06 12 May 2009
    He is fantastic!
  4. jaywatts
    18:58 15 May 2009
    I fell in love with Bourdin's images through some happy accident, and was delighted to see the films that Showstudio had put up a while back - this is great to hear about, as well.