Fashion sub-editor Jessica Cole reviews the otherworldly experience of the Guy Bourdin: Image-maker exhibition at Somerset House
Somerset House’s latest fashion offering, Guy Bourdin: Image maker, is a must see, even for those who aren’t really into fashion at all. The exhibition shakes up an exotic cocktail of Fine Art, Photography and Fashion with a hefty squeeze of zesty surrealism. The creatively juicy, freshly squeezed exhibition of Borudin’s work is organic and visually succulent. A chasm of surrealist fantasy, the exhibition chronicles the Man Ray protégées early work with Charles Jourdan, his prolific shoots for French Vogue and his later fascination with muse Nicole Meyer. It is true that this is fashion photography, but the subject is not fashion. By uniquely placing fashion on the back burner, Bourdin merely uses it as an excuse to create his fantastical images.
Walking through the vast exhibit of his works, you get this feeling of divination. Different to what can feel like most stuffy fashion exhibitions, Bourdin’s photography is an external representation of his internal world; it is chaotic but also meticulously refined. Working throughout the 70s and 80s, Bourdin’s extreme attention to detail, along with his obsessive hunger for perfection, reverberates throughout the walls of the South Wing Gallery. Bejewelled with some of his most famous works, (of course I’m talking about those eerie body-less legs), I felt as though I was sinking into each image, being enveloped into Bourdin’s world. The images are like snapshots of some surreal Disneyland, women with eight legs, girls making out with hot dogs and vomiting red nail varnish. These images are frozen, never ageing and always remaining as provoking as when they were first published, long before the days of photoshop. Bourdin is just as much a storyteller as he is a magician, artist and photographer. The images give a snapshot of a story, yet the narrative remains ambiguous. The viewer is thrust into the various worlds and left to come up with their own story, their own feeling for the image.
Borudin encourages the viewer to thwart all preconceived notions of fashion photography, conjuring them into an alternate view. Of the vast density of his work shown at Somerset house, the model less campaigns of Charles Jourdan has left a sticky imprint in my head, making the hairs creep up the back of my spine. The eerie beauty of the mannequin legs dotted in various locations completely twisted the idea of a ‘model’ or a ‘mannequin’, focusing purely on the legs. Who is the women ? What does this women look like? As I felt myself being further drawn into the images, I could feel my own legs turning into plastic, my feet morphing into those delicious patent cherry red Charles Jourdans. I became fully submerged in the image.
It was a quite Tuesday morning when I visited this exhibition, the only noise I could hear was the pattering of heels walking across the smooth marble floor. The tap tapping, snapping me out of my ‘Bourdinity’. Whether or not these heels were just an overspill of my hyper stimulated imagination, or reality, I can not say. In amongst the chaos and throngs of this commercial time of year, stepping into the Bourdin exhibition will leave you with a new zest and a renewal of an internal magic that has been saturated by the somewhat faux magic of Christmas. A trip to Guy Bourdins:Image maker, is a trip, an escapism into a galaxy of different worlds.
Students – £7
Somerset House – South Wing Gallery
Nearest Tube: Waterloo
27th Novemeber 2014 -15th March 2015
Images courtesy of Somerset House Press