The Leg Works: Guy Bourdin & Eva Stenram

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Guy Bourdin, Charles Jourdan, 1979
Guy Bourdin, Charles Jourdan, 1979© Guy Bourdin Estate. Courtesy Michael Hoppen Gallery

Legs take centre stage in some extraordinary (and odd) works by Guy Bourdin and Eva Stenram

A shapely pair of legs is a great asset. In fact, Guy Bourdin and Eva Stenram believe it’s all you need – or so their photographic series would imply. In the two shows – Walking Legs at The Michael Hoppen Gallery and Positions at Siobhan Davies Studios – there isn’t a head or torso to be seen, only knees and ankles, stockings and shoes.

But this isn’t a sign that foot fetishism has reached peak chic. Rather these are works by a pair of artists wielding their mastery of collage and misdirection to two very different ends. In 1979, Guy Bourdin was one of the world’s most iconic image makers – a darling of fashion and in commercial demand the world over. Walking Legs were created for the shoe company Charles Jourdan – just one chapter in a triumphant creative relationship that lasted for a number of years. His work was novel and odd, glossy and creative, and always got the media excited. In this Bourdin redefined the relationship between art and commercialism, blending the boundaries that had kept them so sternly divided. These shots of disembodied mannequin legs, captured at various locations on a road trip from London to Brighton, are startling, modern and beautiful; the perfect showcase for Jourdan shoes without losing the integrity of Bourdin’s vision.

In contrast to Bourdin’s pairs of promenading calves, Eva Stenram takes us indoors. Dimly lit interiors, dense carpets, muted colours, gleaming sofas – each occupied by a single reclining limb. Crafted from found photographs featuring 60s pin-up girls, the legs – dressed in stockings and stilettos – retain a whiff of the sensuality they were designed to emit; yet, stripped of their bodies, the eroticism is arrested and becomes absurd, surreal. In contrast to the jaunty, glossy world of Bourdin, Stenram has fashioned a macabre, stifling milieu – the limbs lying vulnerable and ridiculous in their trappings of seduction. Two very different uses of the leg, but for both, interrupting the human element of their work has not removed its power, only warped and heightened it.

Guy Bourdin: Walking Legs is at The Michael Hoppen Gallery from February 6-28, in conjunction with Guy Bourdin: Image Maker, at Somerset House until March 15; Eva Stenram: Positions is at Siobhan Davies Studios until March 22.

Words by Tish Wrigley