Guy Bourdin: Image Maker, Somerset House

3. Vogue Paris, May 1970 © Guy Bourdin

In awe I stood of the neoclassical structure that lay before of me. A diamond in the rough centred in the heart of the capital, Somerset House has become a major patron of the artistic and cultural worlds, housing some of the greatest artistic works in both visual and theatrical forms. Across the stone courtyard I hastened out of the crisp cold air to enter the grounds where Dukes, Lords and Queens of England once roamed.

Down the spiral staircase I went, led by fuchsia pink arrows, as if I was Alice entering my very own alternate wonderland. Into the wild world of Guy Bourdin I embarked. Set over three levels, the exhibition was largely filled with unpublished gems from films, drawings, paintings and sketches, and of course, Bourdin’s notorious fashion photographs.

1. Charles Jourdan, Spring 1979 © Guy Bourdin

Upon entering, I was intrigued to see a continuous frieze of bright coloured shoes daintily placed on the bottom half of female mannequin legs. My first thought was to assume a Parisian love affair with shoes. However, “Britain by Cadillac” was the first of Bourdin’s works to be on display. The never before seen project charts 22 images from the 1979 road trip of Charles Jourdan shoes travelling across the UK with mannequin legs, accompanied by in his own recently purchased black Cadillac.

As I continued on to the second level, my heavy biker boots trudged along the mahogany wooden flooring of the South Wing Gallery, a long passage way which resembled a medieval hallway was flanked with iconic images of femme fatales and surrealist motifs stemmed from Bourdin’s ingenious mind.

5. Pentax calendar, 1980 © Guy Bourdin

The French fashion photographer who began his professional career with Vogue Paris in the 1950s takes on an avant-garde approach with his creations, grasping full control of every aspect of the image, from compositional techniques down to the models and their makeup.

An exotic eroticism so alien and groundbreaking to the norm of 20th century fashion photography and considered absolute genius allowed Bourdin to rise to fame in the 1970s for his provocative expressionism. The exhibition does well in explaining the methods to his madness, showcasing how each and every image was planned and allowing the viewer to understand the process behind the lens.

4. Charles Jourdan, Spring 1976 © Guy Bourdin

A notable aspect of the exhibition was the showcase of Bourdin’s Super-8 films. For me, there was one video in particular that called out to me.  Up a mini set of stairs, I found myself in a circular complex, with four giant freestanding walls positioned to create curved space, each struck with a projection of Bourdin’s cinematic creation, accompanied by Bernard Herrmann’s “Twisted Nerve” as its soundtrack, aka the whistle song from Kill Bill. The video, which was created onset by Bourdin, again allows the viewer to understand what it is like to be involved in a fashion shoot.

From the enigmatic allure of his models to the storytelling aspect of his compositions, Guy Bourdin has been immortalised as a leading patriot of fashion photography.

The making of the master has thus been revealed.

Guy Bourdin: Image Maker is at Somerset House until 15 March 2015