Oyster #92: Redheads and Guy Bourdin
The allure of the redhead.
In Denmark it is an honour to have a redhead child, in Corsica if you pass a redhead on the street the tradition is to spit and turn around once, the ancient Egyptians reportedly burnt redheads alive and yet Hitler ? unlike with other minorities under his regime ? left redheads alone (provided they were not Jewish, of course). Strawberry blonde, ginger or amber, regardless of the hue, no other human trait has ever courted such controversy or suspicion. Throughout history, redheads have been cast as sinners, saints and even seducers ('Red on the head means fire in the bed', or so the saying goes). To be outcast and ostracised, however, has always been the burden of the unusual. And unusual they are ? only about four percent of the world's population has the redhead gene, the majority of whom are found in Scotland and Ireland.
The reason they are so rare is that the trait is the result of two mutated versions of the MC1R gene ? one from each parent. The other consequence of this mutation is the production of pale skin and freckles. It's a striking image, the russet tone against a ghostly white ? one that no one has worshipped or exploited more than the enigmatic Guy Bourdin. While he undoubtedly revolutionised fashion photography, it was his portrayal of women, in particular his obsession with redheads, that makes his work most intriguing. A naked woman lies as if dead on the floor, bright red liquid pooled near her head; it looks as though technicolour blood is coming from her mouth. Another redhead lies face down in grass, eyes open but unseeing, shoulders bare. Overtly sexualised, Bourdin's surrealist imagery is both compelling and confounding. As an artist, he embraced bright colours and stark beauty, and for the redheaded woman he produced a colossal portfolio paying homage to her allure.
Last month marked the 10 year anniversary of Guy Bourdin's death. As a pioneer in revolutionising fashion photography, Bourdin's career spanned four decades and pushed countless boundaries. Working with bright colour palettes and immeasurable surrealism, Bourdin attempted to capture the complexities of his personal style in his work. Regardless of his sometimes garishly leftfield artistic tendencies, it can be said that with Bourdin's photography came the perception of fashion as art.