Guy Bourdin's Female Fantasies

Fashion photographer Guy Bourdin was a protégé of Man Ray, a colleague of Helmut Newton, and is the subject of a provocative new retrospective featuring unseen works. VIEW OUR GALLERY.

08.20.09 10:38 PM ET

One of the most influential fashion photographers of the past 50 years, Guy Bourdin’s work has been celebrated in museum and gallery exhibitions around the world. The controversial photographer, who made women look like living dolls, died at age 63 in 1991—but not before making his mark in the art and fashion realms. His magazine work for Vogue and commercial campaigns for Charles Jourdan, Chanel, and Bloomingdale’s were legendary in his time and now Bourdin is the subject of his first retrospective in Brazil. A Message for You by Guy Bourdin recently opened at the Brazilian Museum of Sculpture ( MuBE) in São Paulo, where it remains on view through August 31.

Featuring many of the photographs that were seen in Bourdin’s retrospective exhibition at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum in 2003, the exhibition is part of the Iguatemi Photo Series, which earlier this year highlighted the work of photographers David LaChapelle and Rankin. The sprawling show, which also includes many unpublished prints and personal Polaroids, was curated by Chico Lowndes and displays 177 photographs and films that cover Bourdin’s illustrious career from the 1950s through the early 1990s.

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A student of Man Ray, colleague of Helmut Newton, and follower of Balthus, Rene Magritte, and Luis Bunuel, Bourdin grew up in turbulent times and made psychological narratives that reflected them. Fantasy, luxury, glamour, pleasure, violence, and danger were thrown into his conceptual grinder and served in a compellingly seductive way. Using odd angles and severe makeup and lighting, he photographed female models in the most compromising positions—turning them into dreamy objects of desire and striking Surrealist visions.

Young women ride on the backs of dolphins, suggestively stretch across tables to admire their image in a mirror, sport spiked heels on sofas and under tables, and play dress-up while bumping parts. Bourdin knew how to accentuate outfits or a pair of shoes, while surrounding them in mystery. Did he go too far—certainly! That was what he was aiming for. He wanted to push the boundaries of what was acceptable in photography past the edge, yet he strived to do it in the most imaginative of ways, and succeeded.

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Paul Laster is the editor of, a contributing editor at and Art Asia Pacific, and a contributing writer at Time Out New York and Art in America.