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Fashion / Style File

The Most Legendary Guy

Texas Photographer Reveals What Working for a Radical Fashion Figure Was Truly Like

BY Richard Krall, edited from an interview by Christina Geyer // 03.10.17

Dallas photographer Richard Krall opens up about the formative years he spent apprenticing for the late Guy Bourdin, one of fashion’s most radical lensmen.

I was initially introduced to Guy Bourdin through his pictures. In the early days, I started collecting his work wherever I could find it: Vogue Paris, Linea Italiana, Photo, maybe an occasional Italian Vogue. I spent every dollar I had on those magazines. The way I actually met and started to work with him happened this way.

After attending the RIP (Les Rencontres de la Photographie festival) in Arles, France in 1985, I took the train to Paris to pursue the possibility of meeting him. Everyone in Arles knew about Guy and told me I would never be able to meet him — that he was very reclusive and private. I was going to try anyway.

Within a day or two of arriving in Paris, I had the idea to try to contact one of the crew members listed in the credits for the editorials Guy shot for Paris Vogue. Lucky for me, one of his main makeup artists, Heidi Morawetz, was listed in the phone book. I called the number, and she answered.

“Hi, my name is Richard Krall,” I said. “I came from Texas and I want to meet Guy Bourdin.” Heidi said, “Okay. Go over to Vogue studio. He’s probably over there sitting around, talking.” She gave me the address and told me to ask for Michelle Zaquin, the studio manager. Heidi hadn’t given me the keys to the kingdom, but she told me where it was.

I headed to the address the moment I hung up the phone: the Place du Palais-Bourbon. A little nervous, I walked into the studio and saw a woman behind a desk. “Are you Michelle Zaquin?” I asked. The lady, a bit startled, said yes. “I would like a job here at Vogue studio,” I said.

I couldn’t believe what I was saying. I hadn’t intended to ask for a job abroad. It just blurted out. I pressed my luck further: “I would like to work for Guy Bourdin.” She replied, “All right, why not. Do you know how to operate the equipment?”

I was stunned. Guy shot with Nikons and Hasselblads, but the studio had Balcar strobe lights, which I wasn’t acquainted with. I said I knew about the cameras but didn’t know how to use the flash equipment. Patrick, Michelle’s studio assistant, had been sitting there the whole time watching and listening. He would become one of my best friends.

“Come here,” he said. “This is how you turn it on, and this is how you set the power.” I told Michelle I knew the flash equipment. “Be here early Monday morning,” she said. “You’ll meet Guy then and start work with him on a three-day shoot for the designer Emanuel Ungaro.” I couldn’t believe what had just happened. That was Thursday afternoon. Cloud nine.

Monday finally came, and I was at the studio bright and early. Guy wasn’t there. Michelle pointed at several lighting and equipment cases Patrick had gathered for me. “Get all this stuff and take it over to Hotel George V,” she said. “The taxi will be here shortly.”

She handed me a piece of paper with the address of the hotel. When the taxi arrived, I loaded it and handed the driver that piece of paper. They had known me for 20 minutes, and I walked out with thousands of dollars worth of equipment and all of Guy’s personal cameras. No requests for identification, a portfolio — nothing.

We arrived at the hotel, and I made my way to the suite. Nervously I asked about Mr. Bourdin, explaining I was his assistant for this job. A wardrobe stylist said he was back there, pointing to one of the suite’s rooms. There was a very tall woman with huge, wild blonde hair talking to a much less tall, unassuming fellow.

Trying to mind my manners, I introduced myself to the tall lady: “I’m Mr. Bourdin’s assistant,” I said. “Hello,” she said. “I’m Arianne, Mr. Ungaro’s PR person.” I turned to the short man next to her. Before I could say anything, he put his hand out to shake mine. “How are you?” he said. “Who are you?” I asked. “I’m Guy Bourdin,” he said.

I flitted about nervously, asking Guy where he was going to shoot, where the lights would be, et cetera. In his broken English, he said, “Richard, sit down. Relax. I don’t know what I do. You have idea. You give me.” Unbelievable! Guy Bourdin had just told me that if I had an idea, to let him know. I didn’t.

Richard Krall and Anouk Aimee by Guy Bourdin for Emanuel Ungaro, 1985

After catching my breath, I met Anouk Aimee while she was having her makeup done. The French actress, who starred in A Man and a Woman, was the model for the shoot and Ungaro’s girlfriend. During the shoot, Guy asked me to model with Anouk. They had one of Ungaro’s suits handy, and I put it on. Me, with sunglasses on and a cigar in hand: Guy snapped away. Later, when I saw the image printed in Vogue Paris, Ungaro had cut the image in half. Only Anouk remained in the picture.

When the shoot wrapped, Guy said he would like to work with me again. I told him I would like to, but that I didn’t have a place to stay or much money. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I’ll find a place for you to live and make sure you have money.

It was late July, and as most Europeans take their summer holidays in August, I stayed in the home of Barbara Baumel (one of the Vogue editors and Guy’s close friend) for the month of August and a bit of September, while she and her boyfriend vacationed elsewhere.

This began a two and a half year long apprenticeship with Guy. Almost immediately, it became like a father-and-son relationship. He was very kind to me. There was a special connection between us that went beyond the typical photographer-assistant relationship. During a vacation we all took together at a little house Guy owned in Normandy, his son, Samuel, told me, “My father wants to adopt you.” I was very flattered.

What Guy taught me is that there is more to this existence than what meets the eye. He was tuned into something. I’m not sure what or how. The only thing I can think to call it is maybe the rhythm of the planets, or of the stars.

I remember someone asked him how he and I communicated, as he spoke broken English and I spoke very little French. “We speak with our minds,” he said. I learned a different way of life than I had known before: to be more accepting of things as they are; that the world is bigger than you; and to allow things to happen organically.

He told me to never interfere with happenstance. I can still hear him saying: “No selection. No rejection,” and “No problems, only solutions.” I have tried but haven’t always succeeded.

Francis Bacon and Andy Warhol, London
I flew from Paris to London for a Francis Bacon portrait shoot, with no contact information for where Guy was or where I needed to go. In 1986, there weren’t many cell phones around, so as soon as I landed at Heathrow, I got on a pay phone, and frantically called the Vogue office — but everyone had gone home for the evening.

I ended up having to wait till morning to find out the rendezvous point for the Francis Bacon shoot. The next day, armed with the information, I hopped into one of those classic black London taxis and told the driver, “Tate Gallery, please.”

When shooting with his old Nikon, Guy would expose a roll of Polachrome first to check lighting and exposure prior to shooting a roll of Ektachrome. Bacon arrived. Guy posed him in front of one of his paintings and exposed the Polachrome. I developed the film in the hand-cranked box that processed the film. This takes several minutes, and once it was finished, Guy took a quick look and started shooting with the Ektachrome. I’m sure Guy intended to shoot three or four rolls of film, but after just 36 frames, Bacon stood up and said, “That’s enough.”

Martine, Guy’s girlfriend at the time, asked Bacon what his favorite color was. I thought it was a stupid question, but he answered: “Orange.” He signed a copy of his Tate Gallery catalog: “To Richard Krall with all my best wishes, Francis Bacon.” It’s one of my prized possessions.

 During this same trip, I photographed Andy Warhol — by chance, really. With some time off after the Bacon shoot, I walked around London and found myself on King’s Road. I looked to my right and out of nowhere Andy Warhol was walking next to me. “Hey, I know you,” I said. “You do?” he replied. I asked if I could take his picture, but I thought he said no, so I kept walking.

About 10 feet away, I turned around. He was standing there. “Well,” Warhol said. “Are you going to take it or not?” I agreed. “Where do you want me to stand?” he asked. We were in front of a little ice cream shop. “Can you stand there?” I said. He did, and I snapped two pictures: one with his eyes open and one with them closed.

Isabella Rossellini by Guy Bourdin, 1988

Isabella Rossellini, NYC
I was back in the States, and Guy called to ask if I wanted to come to New York for a shoot with Isabella Rossellini. Uh, let me think about that for a minute … We went to Isabella’s apartment. Guy did some photos of her with light coming through the blinds. After a few hours, Guy, Isabella, and I hopped into a limousine and headed down to Battery Park, where Guy wanted to shoot. Along the way, I said something to Isabella about how much I loved Blue Velvet and her appearance in the movie. She stared out the window of the limo without speaking. I didn’t push it.

Tique Magazine, Oslo
Either Guy was tuned into the universe in some way, or he was very lucky. Doing a shoot for the magazine Tique, we were on a little hill in a small park somewhere in Oslo. The models were dressed in fur coats.

As soon as I handed the camera to Guy, a pack of about 20 dogs descended on the area and started circling the models. The dogs began fighting with each other, some very aggressively. Guy clicked away telling the models to ignore the dogs. I’m sure it was difficult for them. The scene was mayhem, but they persevered.

As soon as the roll of Polachrome ended, the dogs vanished. I stuck the roll in the processor and started development: frame after frame of gnashing teeth; dogs in mid air; all four paws completely off the ground. It was a bizarre happenstance, to say the least. Or, maybe, that was just Guy.

Richard Krall is a Dallas-based photographer and filmmaker. Most recently, he was director of photography for a soon-to-be-released music video, shot in L.A. for Nikola Bedingfield. He has photographed numerous campaigns for Stanley Korshak, Neiman Marcus, Galleria Dallas, BeautiControl, and NorthPark Center.

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