From popular movies to TV to books and photography and ad campaigns, the entirety of Hollywood and Madison Avenue seems so set on remaking and retooling anything & everything from the past 50 years, that it makes you wonder if everyone is secretly sharing some kind of Anti-Creative Kool Aid. And the latest Jimmy Choo campaign for Spring 2011 shot by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin is just another fine example.
What do you think: homage or rip off?
Either way, it's worth taking a look at the original...who was a true original. Guy Louis Banarès was born in late 1928 in Paris, and abandoned the following year by his mother & sent to live with his father's parents. While his father later re-established contact with Bourdin, his mother did so only sporadically and he met her in person but once. "The only memory Bourdin had of his mother was of an elegant Parisienne, heavily made up, with light red hair and very pale skin," notes Greg Fallis on Sunday Salon.
Yearning to be a painter, he was conscripted into the French Air Force as an aerial photographer in 1948, and it wasn't until he discovered the photographs by Edward Weston of bell peppers (right: Weston's "Pepper, 1930" which was his most famous pepper, and which his second son, Brett, claimed to have eaten) that he "began to understand photography had aesthetic potential beyond the mere act of documentation."
Eventually mentored by Man Ray, Bourdin first struggled as an art photographer, but eventually found work photographing hats for French Vogue, a "formulaic" endeavor that he nonetheless spiced up by posing his models appropriately and traditionally, enough, but instead of the Eiffel Tower or Arc de Triomphe, chose locations such as the front of a butcher's shop festooned with calf heads on hooks.
After Bourdin was introduced by French Vogue editor Francine Crescent to the head of Charles Jourdan shoes in the early 60s, he began creating many of the striking images that still resonate so strongly today (*ahem* Inez & Vindoodh). "Bourdin began to construct and photograph strange narratives," notes Fallis, "that existed independently of the product." While the actual Jourdan shoes being sold were included in the shot, they were dominated by the sheer visual power of Bourdin's imagery - which helped create what we have now come to recognize as "editorial" photography.
His groundbreaking style generated so much buzz for French Vogue and drove enough ad sales that by the 70s, he not only had creative control over whatever he wanted to shoot, but was also given 10 pages each month in the magazine to do with as he pleased. Which was to further explore the concepts of violence, death, and perversity; but in an unexpected palette of bright, eyeblasting hues that you still see today in the work of Steven Meisel, Nick Knight, and David LaChappelle.
Interestingly, unlike his contemporaries such as Helmut Newton who were as good (if not better) at self promotion as shooting photographs, Bourdin refused to exhibit his photographs, and turned down any offers to publish them in book form. His negatives and prints were an unorganized mess, and when he was awarded the Grand Prix National de la Photographie by the French Ministry of Culture in 1985, he simply refused to accept it. Bourdin obviously dismissed his day job as not particularly worthy artistically, and yet,when a model once complained on the job that it was becoming "pornographic", Bourdin was said to have responded: "Don't make me laugh; this is art."
While he did continue to paint, is was a doomed endeavor, much like his apparent self image. "He is said to have thought himself un poète damné," says Fallis, "a poet damned to suffer." As were his unfortunate models & lovers.
On one occasion, he had his assistants glue small black pearls all over the bodies of two models; when they eventually passed out, Bourdin apparently said: "Oh, it would be beautiful to photograph them dead in bed." His depiction of women was disturbing and, yet, you find you can't look away.
Mother issues? "He remembered her in a very romantic way," Vogue editor Francine Crescent was quoted as saying. In fact, many of Bourdin's models tended to have an eerily cookie-cutter sameness: pale and red haired, just like maman.
He was said to have been unusually cruel and dominating of his partners, locking them in the apartment when he wold leave, refusing to let them talk on the telephone, have visitors or even go outside. His 13 year old son discovered his mother's body when she hung herself; another girlfriend cut her wrists, one perished in a fall, and one died of a drug overdose. "Despite all this, Bourdin continued to work, continued to shoot his strange conceptual fashion photographs," adds Fallis. "In fact, one image shot for Charles Jourdan shoes, Bourdin shows a woman collapsed on a bed, the nearby television playing, the silhouette of a young boy standing in the doorway. He had conflated the events surrounding the death of his wife and his girlfriend into a single image."
In 1991, Bourdin died of cancer.
- Lesley Scott