French photographer Guy Bourdin was notoriously reticent about self-promotion, which makes one wonder what he would think of the massive retrospective of his work currently underway at London’s Somerset House. During his lifetime the artist refused the prestigious Grand Prix National de la Photographie from the French government, and ripped up and returned a blank cheque received from a desperate American collector. Sadly the eccentric Bourdin is no longer with us to complain, so visitors are free to immerse themselves in over 100 of his images spanning 1955 to 1987, including work never seen in public before.
Bourdin never published a book on his work, and never held an exhibition, but this apparent shyness was based on his belief that there was no market for commercial photography once published. This point of view is especially strange considering his rich story-telling style, which places the product as secondary to the image. His work for the shoemaker Charles Jourdan is a perfect case in point: although we can see the shoes (often only the shoes, as the rest of his models are hidden, cropped out, or even chopped off at the knee), his innovative and witty compositions are memorable for their narrative power. Bourdin, a protégé of Man Ray, was known as a colour fashion photography pioneer, but this exhibition also includes early and late career images in black and white and Super-8 video work shot on location alongside his photography assignments – additions that show Bourdin to be a multi-talented visual artist. Guy Bourdin: Image-Maker runs until 15 March 2015.