Guy Bourdin’s sensual, cinematic photography is celebrated in new Armani/Silos exhibition

Opening at Milan’s Armani/Silos this week, ‘Guy Bourdin: Storyteller’ explores the French fashion photographer’s ‘creative freedom, narrative skill and great love of cinema’, says Giorgio Armani

Guy Bourdin photograph of woman having her shoe put on by maid
Charles Jourdan, Spring 1978 + 2023
(Image credit: Photography by Guy Bourdin, courtesy The Guy Bourdin Estate)

Coinciding with the arrival of Milan Fashion Week, a new exhibition celebrating the work of pioneering French photographer Guy Bourdin – who remains best-known for his bold, sensual fashion portraiture – opens at Armani/Silos, the exhibition space inaugurated in 2015 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of designer Giorgio Armani’s career. 

TitledGuy Bourdin: Storyteller’ (24 February – 31 August 2023), the exhibition promises a rare chance to view seminal works by the photographer, alongside lesser-known parts of his oeuvre. The title was chosen for Bourdin’s ability to create narratives within his photographic output, in part inspired by his longtime admiration for the visual landscapes of Alfred Hitchcock and Edward Hopper. 

‘He was essentially a storyteller, storyteller, capable of condensing entire novels, usually crime or noir, into a single shot,’ Armani/Silos describes.

Guy Bourdin: Storyteller at Armani/Silos

Guy bourdin photograph of woman with hands with red nails covering eyes

Vogue Paris, May 1970 + 2023

(Image credit: Photography by Guy Bourdin, courtesy The Guy Bourdin Estate)

In a comment on the exhibition, Giorgio Armani notes that parallels between his own brand of discreet luxury and Bourdin’s ‘clear-cut, graphic, and impactful work’ – which was deeply infused with sexuality – are not immediate, though such an opposition is part of the intention behind Armani/Silos.

‘[I want to make] Armani/Silos a centre of contemporary photography culture, embracing everything related to the Armani world as well as things that couldn’t be further from it,’ he says.

‘A sense of provocation is immediately evident in his work but what strikes me the most – and what I wanted to focus on – is instead his creative freedom, his narrative skill and his great love of cinema,’ continues Armani, whose own love of film is well known.

Guy Bourdin photograph of made-up eye looking through hole

Invite for MAF!A Ad Agency, 1972 + 2023

(Image credit: Photography by Guy Bourdin, courtesy of The Guy Bourdin Estate)

‘Bourdin did not follow the crowd and he did not compromise and I identify with that. I don’t believe that there is any other way to make a mark on the collective imagination.’

The exhibition will comprise 100 photographs, selected in association between Armani and the Guy Bourdin Estate. One room collates those related to Bourdin’s recognisable use of saturated colour – from bright lipstick red to greens and pinks – while other rooms explore ‘his take on the deconstructed form’ (several of his photographs played with mannequins, or broke down the human form into composite parts) and his black and white oeuvre. The latter room, the house says, ‘shows how immediate Bourdin’s expressive ability is, even with the simplest of contrasts’. Another room hones on Bourdin’s love of cinema.

Guy Bourdin photograph of silhouette of woman behind screen with shoes showing

Charles Jourdan, 1972 + 2023

(Image credit: Photography by Guy Bourdin, courtesy of The Guy Bourdin Estate)

Bourdin was born in Paris in 1928, initially beginning his career in the arts as a painter, before teaching himself photography in the early 1950s. Around this time he met artist Man Ray, whose influence is seen in the oftentimes surreal elements in Bourdin’s work. Fashion photography, though, would become the medium for which Bourdin is best known, collaborating particularly with Vogue Paris, the magazine which would define his career.

‘Compositions hovered between the absurd and the sublime, highly stimulating the subconscious of the spectator,’ describes Armani/Silos. ‘The hyperreal colours, plays of light and shadow, and “glossy“ make-up on the models are all part of his unique, distinctive visual code.’

‘Guy Bourdin: Storyteller’ will be open to the public from 24 February – 31 August 2023.

Fashion Features Editor

Jack Moss is the Fashion Features Editor at Wallpaper*, joining the team in 2022. Having previously been the digital features editor at AnOther and digital editor at 10 and 10 Men magazines, he has also contributed to titles including i-D, Dazed, 10 Magazine, Mr Porter’s The Journal and more, while also featuring in Dazed: 32 Years Confused: The Covers, published by Rizzoli. He is particularly interested in the moments when fashion intersects with other creative disciplines – notably art and design – as well as championing a new generation of international talent and reporting from international fashion weeks. Across his career, he has interviewed the fashion industry’s leading figures, including Rick Owens, Pieter Mulier, Jonathan Anderson, Grace Wales Bonner, Christian Lacroix, Kate Moss and Manolo Blahnik.