For devotees of Guy Bourdin, there’s been much to rediscover – and uncover – about the late French photographer since his largest retrospective to date opened at Somerset House in London. Bourdin buffs can now stroll south to Chelsea gallery Michael Hoppen Contemporary, where his Walking Legs series (alongside a number of original Polaroids) will enjoy a separate selling run until the end of March.
Commissioned by French shoe designer Charles Jourdan – a long-time creative collaborator of Bourdin’s – the startling series comprises an array of disembodied mannequin legs set against quintessentially British backdrops. Shapely gams head for shelter under a David Mellor-designed bus stop in one instance, while glossy calves take a Hitchcockian turn down a dark alley and English roses bloom in full around another pair. The ‘portraits’ cast British archetypes in a sinister, new light.
Part advertising campaign, part travelogue, the images were captured during the late summer of 1979 when Bourdin, armed with a trunk of Charles Jourdan shoes and accompanied by his son, hit the road in a black Cadillac travelling from London to Brighton. Until now, the series had never been publicly seen in its entirety, with only a small sample of images originally published.
Bourdin’s approach to image making was revolutionary for the time. His work defied commercial conventions in favour of artistic ones, placing greater importance on the complex and intricate narratives woven around the products rather than the products themselves.
To that end, Walking Legs is his unique visual language at its purest and wittiest – hallmarked by uncanny compositions (Bourdin was a protégé of the Surrealist Man Ray), intense colour palettes, mysteriously absent models and an intoxicating quality of eroticism. Not to be missed, Bourdin’s plastic pins are foot fetishism at its chicest.