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Guy Bourdin’s Early Street Photographs of Paris

Untouched, the new Guy Bourdin book from Steidldangin (the collaborative imprint of publisher Gerhard Steidl and creative director Pascal Dangin), delves into Bourdin’s formative first half-decade as a photographer. Through his early black-and-white street photographs, exhibition maquettes, and reproductions of work prints and contact sheets, the beautifully printed book reveals how Bourdin saw and arranged the world—specifically Paris—from 1949, when he was discharged from the French Air Force, to 1955, when his photographs were first published in Vogue and Nouveau Femina.

The meat of the book draws on a box of more than one hundred brown negative envelopes onto which Bourdin had taped contact prints. Historian Shelly Verthime found the yellow Kodak photo paper box full of negatives in 2011, while she was looking through Bourdin’s archives. The discovery has opened up a new avenue for considering Bourdin’s work and career. Particularly evident is Bourdin’s use of the shapes and textures he found in the built environment of Paris to create compelling, graphic backdrops for human subjects.

Many of the negative envelopes adorned with contact prints are reproduced here, allowing readers to compare the image as Bourdin captured it with how he cropped the print in the darkroom. The maquettes he created in anticipation of exhibiting the work, also reproduced here along with an exhibition pamphlet with a short text by Man Ray, offer some insight into Bourdin’s editing process. As Verthime writes in her text for the book, the archive revealed in Untouched “captured the most significant moment in the development of Guy Bourdin’s artistic and photographic career, highlighting his foundations and visionary early work.”

Related Stories:
Guy Bourdin: Image Maker
Guy Bourdin: Fashion Spreads
End Frame: Nathaniel Goldberg on Guy Bourdin (for PDN subscribers; login required)

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