Assignment 4 (Re-work)

Main tutor suggestions to use:

  • Flag up in a much clearer way the additional research you carried out for this project in your blog as evidence.
  • Definition of documentary ‘the image has a documentary feel’
  • Quote from historian/curator regarding the market for the advert.
  • Notes on Bourdin’s use of colour in other images – make reference to some of the works for comparison.
  • ‘Although Bourdin didn’t show any interest in leaving a legacy behind he most certainly has..’ -how do you know this?
  • Try to engage with some of the recommended theory. (Barthes etc look at OCA course notes) Maybe write a post on it to get head around it (my suggestion to self)

Summary of changes made in re-working process: (see the original assignment here)

  • I will start of by saying that it is really difficult to add any extra information to this essay as suggested by my tutor as it is hard to know what to take out in place of the new information as I am right on the word limit…  I will give it a go though.
  • I can’t find a quote from a historian or curator on the market for Bourdin’s work but I did find Francine Crescent (former editor of Vogue Paris) talking about the market for Bourdin’s adverts here (35 mins in) and have referenced that in the essay. Unfortunately her description is in broken English so I cannot include it as a full quote but I have referenced some of the words she used in the reference section below the essay.
  • I also added a reference and quote in the references section which evidences Guy Bourdin’s legacy and the fact that he didn’t want to leave any behind but he did regardless of that.
  • To learn more about Barthes as suggested by my tutor I read Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes, published in the UK in 1989 (you can see the post with my notes on this here) and I re-read the course notes in my OCA handbook to refresh what I had learned here. I will summarise here what I felt I could use to help interpret the image featured in my essay:

The signifier in this case is an image showing three mannequins and two humans on either side of a window and the signified is what this represents which in this case I would say that the mannequins and their human counterparts signify a world which has become robotic in its following of fashions and obsessed with material gain. Together the signfier and the signified make the sign and this sign is the end result, a layered image with both its obvious and its implied meanings together as one.

Moving on to Denotation and Connotation:

What is denotated in the image in question is that there are both mannequins and humans in the image, that it is daytime and that the image was taken from the inside of a shop in a urban area.

The image’s connotation could be that the women walking past the window are models and that it is a warm summer’s day as they are wearing nothing but small swimming costumes and the sun is indeed shining. What could also be connotated is that the mannequins in the shop front have come to life in part and are gazing and gesturing in desperate longing towards the humans outside the window – wishing to be them – to be free, to be real.

The opening passage to my essay is very much about what is actually denotated and what I have connotated personally whilst viewing the images and researching it and it’s Operator (Photographer).

Moving on to Puntum and Studium:

The studium of the image in question for me is the angle and place from which the image is taken and how this pulls me, as a Spectator (viewer) in. The subjects interest me aesthetically, the shapes of the bony naked mannequin frames and the bright light of the sun outside contrasting with the deep black shadows inside the shop front.

The punctum of the image in question for me personally is the look and physical gestures of longing that the mannequins are portraying – this eerie and saddening display stabs at my heart and makes me think of my own loneliness and desperation to become part of something that I am never quite connected to (having social anxiety to varying degrees and never quite being able to function socially as the majority of the world can and how this can feel increasingly lonely sometimes).

My tutors suggestion to add some Barthes to my Assignment piece is proving really difficult because I can’t find a way to do it without disrupting the flow of the piece and I really like how my final essay piece is reading. I also don’t want to make the piece too personal  by relating the punctum to my own struggles with mental health issues as I think it will ruin this particular piece of writing as I have written it in quite a formal way. I am happy that I have been, I can only say ‘forced’ to revisit Barthes as I had a bit of a block on studying his theories due to the complicated way in which he writes (for me personally) and was finding it difficult to pick up my copy of Camera Lucida again and now I do feel like I have a good general understanding of Barthes loosest terminology and ideas. I can use this new understanding in future work, and also as a basis to learn and eventually have an even fuller understanding of the critical aspects of the practice of Photography.


Vogue Paris May 1975 – Guy Bourdin

Please see an in-depth research trail for this essay here.

Deep in the heart of Paris, down a quiet half-lit street, the deepest corners of a darkened shop front seemingly come to life. A thick band of soft, yet expository, afternoon sunshine pours though the window bathing three figures in it’s glare. Forgotten about, they have only their white cloth hats, resembling swim caps, stretched too tightly over their baby smooth and perfectly shaped scalps. Wrapped up and contorted in their overwhelming emotion they are apparently unconcerned with the fact that they are on display and completely naked, the contours of their anatomically correct forms bouncing light back from bony hips, bare breasts, flat polished stomachs and outstretched palms. One could deduce that they are used to being on display, used to it and even thankful for the attention from passing onlookers, all the while being acutely aware that those observers are seeing only the clothes and using their bodies as frames for the imagination – ‘How would that dress look on me?’. Without clothes these human imitations are redundant. In the same moment, on the street outside, enclosed between the high walls of grand urban buildings, two mannequin-like woman are poised in cat-walk positions, arms and legs straight and high and faces cool and expressionless, oblivious to their wanton observers, used to being observed and most probably bored with it – the opposite of their plastic counterparts…

This apparently title-less image by Guy Bourdin was published in the May 1975 issue of Vogue Paris and as I sadly cannot find much information on it I have gathered evidence from Bourdin’s expansive life’s work in order to analyse it as thoroughly as possible. During the 70’s Bourdin was at the height of his career, his highly saturated imagery and tense psychological themes were proven to sell product and thus he was highly sought after by the likes of big fashion designers’ Charles Jourdan, Chanel, Ungaro, Issy Miyake among many others. Bourdin worked for Vogue France alongside his contemporary Helmut Newton and together they largely dominated the fashion photography scene throughout much of the 70’s. Newton and Bourdin produced some of the most iconic images of that era and yet their techniques were almost polar opposites. Where Newton preferred his model’s to look more alive, using light and make-up to make their skin flushed and eyes bright, Bourdin was using light/shadow and exaggerated doll-like makeup to give his model’s skin a more deathly pallor, adding a more sinister touch. Alongside his penchant for pale-skinned models, Bourdin was more concerned with the potential narrative’s in an image and less interested in the product’s he was being asked to sell. Remarkably this made him more successful as it was this fresh new look that made readers of the magazine stop in their tracks – the page demanded attention![¹]

The Untitled image in question is now over forty years old and yet it does not appear particularly dated.  Apart from the models’ big permed hair and the box-shape of the yellow taxi there isn’t much to give it away. It is now trendy to give photographs and fashion photography a vintage feel and that presumably helps to muffle the years.  The intended market of this photograph, as for all the ads in Vogue Paris, was women in their 30-40s who were required to dress up, for work, for parties or because of their social status, and who were therefore interested in the latest fashions.[²] Now, forty years on, when the image has been digitised and exhibited in many different formats and venues, the image has a new market. The products which it is advertising, of which it is difficult to tell without any context, are presumably no longer for sale and the viewer’s are now seeing Bourdin’s masterpiece in a different light – to appreciate it, interpret it for what it is, to compare it with many of his other surviving works, or perhaps even to purchase it as an artwork.

The image is square in dimension, the top and bottom half of the frame are deeply shadowed creating a kind of widescreen effect and focusing viewer’s on the middle section of the image whilst also creating a more subconscious sense of claustrophobia and containment. The image has a deep depth of field, creating a very 3D effect, which is essential in how this image works, with a shallow depth of field some important elements in the frame such as the model’s outside the window could turn in to a blur of bokeh and the image would take on a new meaning. Bourdin’s work was usually very vibrant and multi-coloured, sometimes incandescent (examples here) however this image is quite realistic in its use of colour, (a faded blue window frame, the dull yellow of a taxi, grimy grey buildings receive no enhancement), and this adds to the aforementioned documentary style and its ability to shock – how can a plastic face who’s expression can’t be changed display so much emotion that it reaches in to the depths of your soul? Unrealistic colour use would have immediately put the image in to an obvious surrealism category – this is fake, nothing to worry about, this is just an advert.

In conclusion, this highly intriguing and mysterious image from the pages of an old Vogue magazine, has continued to grip and engage viewers for over forty years and is showing no intentions of letting up. Although Bourdin didn’t show any interest in leaving a legacy behind he most certainly has[³] and this image is proof that his fashion and advertisement photography remains unmatched in its ability to shock, move and fascinate at the time of, and long after, the products he was commissioned to advertise have sold out.



35:00 minutes in, Francine Crescent (former editor of Vogue Paris), talks about the market of Bourdin’s adverts within Vogue magazine. ‘Bourgeouise, 30’s/40’s, dressing up for parties’


“The logic of the magazine is important in understanding his work. It’s about the woman at the hairdresser’s, flicking through Vogue, coming across something she wasn’t expecting, as a trigger to something else. It’s flick… flick… flick… whoa!’ Bourdin’s work still has the ‘whoa!’ factor. It’s not just the tits-and-arse: there’s plenty of that in, say, Helmut Newton. But what Newton’s eroticised classicism lacks, Bourdin has in spades: psychodrama and a sense of bloody humour.” – O’Neill, curator of ‘Image Maker’


‘Bourdin is less well known now than his contemporary Helmut Newton, though Luchford thinks Bourdin was ‘definitely more influential’. This, as Charlotte Cotton, curator of a new Bourdin retrospective at the V&A, reveals, is because Bourdin never allowed his images to be taken out of the context of a magazine. He refused offers of exhibitions, rejected ideas for books, and once turned down a large financial reward from the French government. Bourdin would not be immortalised. But since his death from cancer in 1991, immortality has taken over.’




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