The exhibition at Armani/Silos Milan curated by Giorgio Armani pays tribute to Guy Bourdin, a pioneering and unusual creator, capable of transforming image into narrative. “Guy Bourdin. Storyteller” is a collection of 100 shots that guide the viewer’s sensibility towards the indelible imprint that the photographer has left on the contemporary imagery. Guy Bourdin’s work contributed to transform fashion photography into a complex visual art, challenging all its traditional conventions. His surrealist aesthetic and his search for meanings beyond the appearance of the image have inspired entire generations and influenced the way fashion is conceived and represented through the camera today.
If it were in the literary sphere, Guy Bourdin’s shots would correspond to short fiction; he was above all a storyteller, capable of condensing entire novels, usually detective or noir, into a single shot. We could compare his photographs to visual glimpses into a mysterious and unknown world, showing intriguing and suspended atmospheres that leave the observer total freedom in imagining the plots. Through this connotation, we can find in Bourdin’s work the daring and provocative approach characteristic of Surrealist photography, that same photography that seeks to go beyond the boundaries of visible reality and transforms the photographic medium into an instrument to represent an imaginary and dreamlike world, often characterised by unusual combinations of objects and situations, which correspond to the author’s intrinsic sensitivity.
Bourdin moved alongside the Surrealists, and for those who visit the exhibition it will not be difficult to discover the link that binds the French photographer to the great pioneer of Surrealism Man Ray, with whom he shared a taste for alarming atmospheres with suspended time, for enigmatic and disturbing compositions and for a somewhat morbid eroticism: women’s legs (his fetish) walking detached from the body; figures obscured or reduced to shadows, of which a single, disturbing detail emerges; women’s faces ‘erased’ by a small crowd of nails lacquered in the same fiery red as the lips, which are also highly polished.
The photographs on display are a collection of suspended fragments that combine eroticism and thriller, absurd and visionary, in an inexhaustible flood of ever new ideas, capable of absorbing stimuli from cinema and painting. It is precisely to his love of cinema that an entire section of the exhibition is dedicated: a selection of country photographs shows what appear to be crime scenes or police chases with noir-like overtones, harking back to his fascination with the theme of the “mysterious plot” in the cinema of Alfred Hitchcock and Edward Hopper, central artists who inspired much of his creative output. Bourdin’s is a narrative built on sensual, provocative elements and surreal, disturbing scenarios associated with fashion objects. Twenty-one black and white photographs show how Bourdin’s expressive ability is immediately perceptible even through simplest contrasts; the photographer uses noir aesthetics to transform fashion photography into something deeper, darker and more complex. The use of symbolic objects, ambiguous poses and unusual scenarios contributes to create a sense of unease and ambiguity in his works, prompting the viewer to question the meaning and significance of the context behind these.
The continuation of the exhibition subdivides the rooms of the Armani/Silos according to the predominant colours in Bourdin’s photographs: there are entire areas dedicated to reds, greens and pinks; an exhibition itinerary that plays with Bourdin’s deconstructed form and idea of composition. Giorgio Armani stated that this exhibition confirms his desire to make Armani/Silos a centre of contemporary photographic culture, “including what is close to the Armani world, but also what is far from it”. And if at first sight Bourdin’s work may seem far removed from Armani’s aesthetic, what convinced the Italian fashion designer to bring this exhibition to Milan is “his creative freedom, his narrative ability and his great love for cinema”.
As Giorgio Armani states, “Bourdin did not follow the mainstream and did not compromise: a trait in which I recognise myself; I believe there is no other way to leave a mark on the collective imagination”.