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Armani / Silos : Guy Bourdin : Storyteller by Paola Sammartano


Archives – May 3, 2023

The role of photography, according to Giorgio Armani

Colours, surrealism, a touch of noir. The exhibition spaces of the Armani / Silos in Milan, host the images by the French photographer Guy Bourdin (Paris 1928-1991). One hundred photographs have been selected by Giorgio Armani and the Guy Bourdin Estate, including both iconic shots and lesser-known images (like his quite fascinating twenty-one black and white photographs).

One hundred like the ones collected in the first book dedicated to him (Exhibit A. Guy Bourdin) published in 2003, thanks to his son Samuel, who managed to retrieve his works scattered all around the world. Although Bourdin worked for the world’s leading fashion houses and magazines, he did not collect his work. He made his debut in Vogue Paris in 1955 and continued to publish his work – characterised by impressive creative freedom – until the late 80s.

Bourdin wanted the viewer to be intrigued by the images and to question them. And he succeeded, condensing entire novels, whether a crime or a noir, into a single shot. Like the perfect storyteller, according to the intuition of Giorgio Armani, who describes him as such.


Giorgio Armani, photography and creativity

The Armani / Silos spaces have been defined to highlight, this time, the specificity of Guy Bourdin’s work, but they are also a dedicated place, part of a vast cultural project, that can offer a constant opportunity to engage with creativity, including photography, which is modelled on each event.

Indeed, as Giorgio Armani explains to L’Oeil:

“I had been toying for some time with the idea of a place that, as well as hosting my permanent collection, would also be a gift to my city, Milan. A container for ideas and projects that gives space to inspirational and stimulating works and a lively exhibition centre in which to celebrate creativity and promote not only fashion but also photography and design, with a strong focus on the younger generation of artists.

I especially wanted to give room to photography, an expressive language that I have always loved. I think it’s a complex art form because it can act as a document, a memory, or a narrative that brings us closer to worlds we don’t know. As a man and a creative who works with images, I am fascinated by this side of it. Reality, and therefore the photograph that captures what it means, is in the eye of the beholder. This is the emotion that photography arouses in me every time, regardless of the subject: the personal relationship that is created with the artist and their point of view. Photography gives form to reality, whether fashion photos, portraits, landscapes, or current affairs.

This exhibition is further confirmation of my intention to make Armani/Silos a centre of contemporary photography culture, embracing everything related to the Armani world as well as things that couldn’t be further from it. At first glance, Guy Bourdin is not an artist with whom I have a lot in common: his language is clear-cut, graphic, and impactful. A sense of provocation is immediately evident in his work but what strikes me the most – and what I wanted to focus on – is instead his creative freedom, his narrative skill and his great love of cinema. Bourdin did not follow the crowd and he did not compromise, and I identify with that. I don’t believe that there is any other way to make a mark on the collective imagination”.


Guy Bourdin’s narratives

Bourdin loved the cinema. Thus, one section of the show features a selection of advertising campaign images depicting what appear to be crime scenes or police chases, alluding to his fascination with filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock.

Intriguingly sophisticated, Bourdin’s images overwhelm us with their narratives and dazzle us with their stunning colours, going beyond the provocation that has always been associated with his work. He has always worked with metaphors, exploring contradictory realities and combining all these elements to create highly experimental photography.

He often staged unusual dramas that seemed to depict everyday situations, though urging our subconscious and imagination.

At the heart of his shots, Bourdin, placed fascinating narratives, dramatic effects, hyper-realistic colours, formal rigour and cropped compositions, like frames of a film, in which mystery, provocation and violence intertwine, like a thriller script, with some enigmatic clues to be deciphered.


A touch of Surrealism

Guy Bourdin, who began his career as a painter and became a self-taught photographer in the 1950s, was almost immediately imbued with surrealist references as a result of his long-standing friendship with Man Ray.

He grew up in a time of intense cultural anxiety, brought on by the disruption of wartime (by the way, he received his photographic training, by working as an aerial photographer while serving in the Air Force).

In the ‘70s, his images became synonymous, for instance, with Charles Jourdan’s advertising campaigns. They were revolutionary in a way: exploring the realms between the absurd and the surreal aesthetic, he demonstrated the importance of valuing the image over the product, thanks to his ability to light up the viewers’ curiosity. With irony, elegance and irreverence, he staged his images as a surreal mise-en- scène, achieving an intriguing mysterious quality.

Paola Sammartano


Guy Bourdin: Storyteller
24 February to 31 August 2023
Armani / Silos
Via Bergognone 40
20144 Milano, Italy

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