It may be Winter outside, but in my heart it is Spring – thanks to the colour-drenched, riotous retrospective that is Guy Bourdin: Image Maker at Somerset House. The exhibition has been running since November and closes mid-March; go see it as soon as you can, because you will want to make more than one visit.
Entry is a mere £9.00, and the fee would be more than worth it just to see a handful of these arresting, unforgettable images. But there are rooms, and rooms, and rooms to rejoice in.
Guy Bourdin is a photographer whose work delights or disgusts: there is really no middle ground.
I can see why some people find Guy Bourdin’s women disturbing. The models in these pictures are often prone; splayed; squished; truncated; playing dead – and sometimes all of these things at once. But to me, every wall in Guy Bourdin: Image Maker is a tribute to the joys of clowning around, showing off, and being naughty. Several of these photos, outrageous as they are, made me laugh out loud.
On no account miss the film installation, in a room to the side, (you could easily just sweep past, mesmerised by the murderous fantasies incarnate in a pair of pink wedges) for this room is AMAZING. It is like being at the most dream-like disco, where the DJ is Carl Jung. One almost expects to be handed a bottle of poppers on the way in, so entrancing is the ambience. The Belle and I are just a little too young to have vivid first-hand recollections of these pictures: this is photography made for the generation just above us; the generation that as avid young Vogue-devourers we hoped to grow up to be. Of course, when we did grow up, fashion had moved on … nonetheless, there will always be room in our hearts and lingerie drawers for a soft pink silk bra and matching cami-knicker.
Let’s talk Shop … specifically, the Gift Shop at the end of this exhibition. I had worked myself into a frenzy of want, and was busily calculating just how much brutal damage I was prepared to inflict on my credit card in order to have a big book of glossy images to take home with me. My total spend? A mere £5. Because (tragically) very few of the images in the galleries are available as postcards, and whilst I admire the Britain By Cadillac pictures – which are available as a book and a postcard pack – they don’t delight me as the image below does, with its perfect balance of fashion and seventies smut.
There is a NARS concession in the gift shop, carrying the limited edition Guy Bourdin tribute range. A touch of genius, but neither the Belle nor I succumbed. Instead we headed off for afternoon tea in the Courtauld Gallery, the perfect carbohydrate-heavy come-down after the excitement of the exhibition, and made plans to shop for shoes and tights.
Guy Bourdin: a photographer that could imbue every gusset with glamour; a Male whose Gaze reminds me that I used to touch my toes purely for the pleasure of bending from the waist whilst wearing sky-blue Bodymap stretch hot-pants, not from any desire to keep fit.
Guy Bourdin: Image Maker is extraordinary and not to be missed by anyone, but if you’ve ever jiggled and wiggled whilst wearing a French maid’s outfit (and who amongst us, has not?) you owe it to yourself to go visit again and again. Happiness is guaranteed.