In this instalment of (ITDR) #itchysilk writer Alessia Scacchi casts a clinical eye over the famous collaboration between two giants in their respective fields. More than just a mere fashion image, it’s a meeting of the mediums of fashion and photography brought alive through that most evocative of genres Surrealism.
The French fashion photographer Guy Bourdin and Charles Jourdan (the famed women’s shoe designer) collaborated to create the evocative, powerful Surrealist image in 1976. Despite his status at the time, Charles Jourdan believed in the avant-garde artist Guy Bourdin, who was inspired by the Surrealist movement. Indeed, it is fair to say that Surrealism evidently influenced the fashion world and photography to great effect. Case in point. In 1936 Salvador Dalí cooperated with Elsa Schiaparelli in creating the “drawer’s dress”, celebrating Venus de Milo with Drawers by the famed Dali.
The synergy of fashion and photography through Surrealism is in many respects easy. Surrealism seeks to awaken the subconscious, although the strategies may differ. The surrealist aesthetics is remembered as evocation of the unconscious, of suspended atmospheres, of automatism and, finally, of eroticism. Both mediums have an innate quality to explore the aforementioned points.
The poet Isidore Lucie Ducasse wrote about the Surrealist idea of beauty: “Beautiful as the casual encounter between a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table.” The association between two elements that are conceptually far from each other creates a new evocative poetics. In fact, most of the Surrealist production plays on perturbing sentiments. This Freudian concept revolves around the idea that familiar and extraneous feelings together can generate disorientation, and that, among the various factors that create the uncanny, contact with death is found. This contact generates a vacillation between the imaginary world and reality. It induces the ambivalent sense of restlessness and fascination. The narrative created by Guy Bourdin functions this way.
The collaboration between Guy Bourdin and Charles Jourdan worked well for both. Bourdin’s vision and his provocations made history working for Vogue between 1955-1987. But he was not just a provocative photographer. Power came in his narrative. Sponsoring a brand and saying something entirely different at the same time. For advertising this was an important conceptual step forward, making this part of fashion photographic history so interesting. Many like Susan Kismaric credit Guy Bourdin as the first explicit story teller in fashion photography.
The narrative strategy is the emotional shock
In the image, there is a car. Maybe there was a crash or a murder. Of course, there are the shoes, but no model. We only know that the model was there, because of the white silhouette. She is not present. In the picture there is the thriller enigma, the suspense, the anxiety. The shoes are not a product to be sold, rather they represent circumstantial evidence. The shoes have the same symbolic value as the blood stains.
The narrative strategy is the emotional shock, like in the best Surrealist poems. Beautiful, as the encounter between a crime scene and a fashion catwalk. The rear door of the car is open. This element represents another enigmatic detail that plays an important role into the reading of the image. The flash of the camera is a raw light into the night. The picture seems to pay homage to the work of the crime reporter Weegee. The style is the raw one of a stolen picture for newspapers, but with evocative and oneiric aspects.
In the same way in which Surrealism recognizes the importance of re-evoking the uncanny, so Bourdin recalls the drama of a murder with the crudeness of the photographic language. The viewpoint is the one of a random stranger passing by and the viewer is directly involved in the scene, .
Guy Bourdin presents the perverse taste of the voyeur. Could you imagine this picture as a mere reconstruction? Why not? How much can a photograph lie?