“Photography?”

This question is asked quite spontaneously when a picture made by Guy Bourdin appears in a photography class. Sometimes it can be challenging to understand if it is a picture or a painting one is looking at, due to the extreme minimalism of the colour palette, the deletion of details, or the presence of a repeating object as a pattern. His work is based on optical illusions, playing with the catchiness of absurdity, as seen in his photobook, A Message for You.

Women are the foremost subjects in this series, many of whom are thrust in an absurd yet endearing backdrop, from riding dolphins to provocative poses embellished with repetitive details. The models rarely pose in a conventional way, certainly breaking the bounds set by the rules of fashion and advertisement photography. And when they do, they find themselves in a peculiar environment woven by Guy’s penchant for the surreal.

Honestly, it is incredibly easy to forget the images were made in order to promote haute couture: they endorse fashion, but they look like fine art. However, the photographs do succeed in hoarding people’s attention given how striking and thought-provoking they are. Not only will the viewer appreciate the clothing and fashion accessories, they will also imbibe the brand of beauty that Guy espouses in the way people appreciate tearjerker ads that were made like short films.

Furthermore, the mystery surrounding the depicted scenes resembles the noir cinema of the ’60s, conveying class in rather fantastical realms. Guy effortlessly underscores allure as if trying to tell his audience that such a quality transcends conventional borders and would still stick out in spite of the odd backdrops. It comes as no surprise that he’s a renowned painter in Europe.

Guy Bourdin got the fame that he deserved just after his premature death in 1991. From that year on, his work has been considered for its artistic value. A Message for You, which came out in 2006, serves as his salutation to all the people who appreciate both fashion and fine art.

© Guy Bourdin (France), from ‘A Message for You’
© Guy Bourdin (France), from ‘A Message for You’
© Guy Bourdin (France), from ‘A Message for You’
© Guy Bourdin (France), from ‘A Message for You’

More from Guy Bourdin: Website