In 1979, French photographer Guy Bourdin took a Cadillac road trip from London to Brighton to shoot a fashion campaign commissioned by shoe supremo Charles Jourdan. Dispensing with live models, he employed a pair of mannequin legs, beautifully shod in Charles Jourdan creations, to tell a story that’s as much about quintessentially British landmarks (Battersea Power Station, Brighton seafront – first picture, a taxi rank, a bus shelter – second picture, a rose garden – third picture) as it is about fashionable footwear. His arresting images have become a magnet for collectors and continue to inspire contemporary fashion photographers from Tim Walker to Nick Knight. Now, for the first time, Bourdin’s estate has allowed contemporary prints to be made from the original Walking Legs series, and fans will have a rare opportunity to buy these images during a selling exhibition at Michael Hoppen Gallery (from Thursday February 5 to Saturday March 28).
The show coincides with Britain’s largest-ever exhibition of Bourdin’s work at Somerset House in London (until Sunday March 15). Here the Walking Legs series is displayed in its entirety for the first time, along with an accompanying fashion film and more than 100 further works. Over in Chelsea, meanwhile, a dozen enigmatic Bourdin prints from the Walking Legs series (each in an edition of 18, £16,440-£18,600) will feature in the Michael Hoppen Gallery exhibition, along with a number of Bourdin’s original polaroids (each unique, £18,000). “Vintage Bourdin is very rare, as he never exhibited nor made many prints,” Michael Hoppen says. “Bourdin has left the world with a unique body of work that, although commercial in many areas, reaffirms his position as a great artist who decided to use a camera to express himself. Unusually, he chose the fashion industry as his vehicle. And his work looks as fresh today as it did some 30 years ago. This is a testament to his influence. Normally, fashion goes out of fashion. Not with Bourdin.”
Bourdin’s daring photographs filled the pages of French Vogue for three decades from the 1950s onwards. A protégé of the surrealist photographer Man Ray, he drew on this early experience to create the strange, dream-like aura that characterises his work. Products – clothes, shoes, accessories – were always secondary to the visual narrative. And the craftsmanship involved in creating these distinctive images in a pre-digital age accounts for both their quality and their enduring appeal.