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Guy Bourdin, Ses Films

Paris' Le Bon Marche exhibits the iconic fashion photographer's never-seen-before films and provides a rare glimpse into his artistic soul

If department stores are designed to lull you into a consumer stupor with their neon lights and confusing layout, then the Guy Bourdin Ses Films exhibition at Paris’s Le Bon Marche (showing until October 29) couldn’t have found a more unlikely setting. In a dark space on the second floor of the glossy store, this provocative exhibition of never-seen-before footage of Bourdin’s films is charged with emotion and an eerie beauty.

In these short films which date from 1960-1980, fans of Bourdin’s work will recognise the recurring motifs in his photographic work, such as shots of abstracted body parts, light reflections and refractions, shadows, half-open doors, flame-like tresses and glossy painted lips.

One of Bourdin’s highly stylised shots would often take days to perfect and this series of 15 clips, edited from archive footage for the exhibition, goes some way towards revealing the thought process behind Bourdin’s iconic imagery. Dazed Digital spoke to Shelly Verthime, curator of the exhibition, about the archives of an artist whose famous last wish was that all his work be destroyed upon his death.

DD: Why an exhibition of Guy Bourdin’s films now?
Shelly Verthime: These are precious films from a mythic creator. For years, it has been my dream to unveil them. Thanks to Le Bon Marche and Samuel Bourdin (Guy Bourdin’s son) it has finally became a reality.
I find the cinéfilms fascinating as they offer an insight into the mind of a creator and capture unique moments in the ‘making of’. They illustrate his personal perspective and his total immersion in the process. One of the objectives of the exhibition was to show how diversified Guy Bourdin was as an artist. For over 40 years, he explored different mediums of expression; he was involved in much more than mere fashion photography.

DD: Is it true that some of the footage has never before been made public?
Shelly Verthime: Most of these films have never been seen before. It takes a great deal of time and money to revive archives of this magnitude. Samuel Bourdin, is on his own in carrying the legacy of his father. The estate of Guy Bourdin, has no institutional or French cultural support.

DD: Are these the films as Guy Bourdin himself edited them?
Shelly Verthime: No. Guy Bourdin didn’t edit the films. The archive was a treasure trove of a raw footage. It was a challenge to keep the authenticity and the spirit of the aging films. For me, this was partly the beauty and the emotion of this body of work. Nothing is retouched. It was overwhelming to take these films and piece them together – to tell a story – to create a dreamlike experience that captures a moment in time. Complicated and sensitive as it might be, it was a privilege to be able to work with such precious material.

DD: What informed the choice of music for the exhibition?
Shelly Verthime: I worked with Ariel Wizman to create the musical score. We went from abstract to classical and back again. The films are emotional, whether on a small or large scale also because one can sense Guy Bourdin’s presence. The music is just another layer to set up the intimacy of watching a material of this calibre.

DD: The macabre, surrealism, sadomasochism, misogyny and love all crop up in discussions of Bourdin's work. What do you consider to be the driving emotion behind his images?
Shelly Verthime: There are so many misconceptions about his work. In these films, one can find humor, beauty, sensuality and a sense of innocence... I always thought he admired women. That he was in awe of women. Women were his muse. Guy Bourdin went beyond what was expected in the fashion world because he dared to encompass a much wider scope of subject matters – he didn’t compromise. He was a voyeur who was interested in his own visual interpretation. His work was much more than a shot of a beautiful model.

DD: What informed the way in which you displayed the work? What were you trying to achieve with the mirrored, refracted effects?
Shelly Verthime: I was inspired by one of his most iconic images for the Charles Jourdan advertising campaign, were he uses screens of mirrors. It was one of his most important formal elements, and I wanted to incorporate it in this exhibition. Over nearly four decades, he explored with fractions, multiplications and interplays of light and shadow.
There is magic in the mirror as much as there is magic in Guy Bourdin’s work. With both, the more you look the more you discover. The mirror tells you the truth.

'Guy Bourdin, Ses Films' will be showing at Le Bon Marche, Paris until the October 25.