Bourdin was one of the best known photographers of fashion and advertising of the second half of the 20th century. He shared Helmut Newton's taste for controversy and stylization, but Bourdin's formal daring and the narrative power of his images exceeded the bounds of conventional advertising photography. Shattering expectations and questioning boundaries, he set the stage for a new kind of fashion photography. Bourdin worked for Vogue and Harper's Bazaar, and shot ad campaigns for Chanel, Issey Miyake, Emanuel Ungaro, Gianni Versace, Loewe, Pentax and Bloomingdale's.
Since his death, Guy Bourdin has been hailed as one of the greatest fashion photographers of all time, and his son Samuel Bourdin released a book with the finest prints of his father's work, called "Exhibit A" in 2001 (co-edited with Fernando Delgado). His first retrospective exhibition was held at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London 2003, and then toured the National gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, and Jeu de Paume in Paris.
Bourdin was the first photographer to create a complex narrative, then snatch a moment — sensual, provocative, shocking, exotic, surrealistic, sometimes sinister — and simply associate it with a fashion item. The narratives were strange and mysterious, sometimes full of violence, sexuality, and surrealism. Bourdin was influenced by his mentor Man Ray, photographer Edward Weston, the surrealist painters Magritte and Balthus, and film maker Luis Buñuel. Even though much less well known to the public than his colleague Helmut Newton (also working for Vogue), Bourdin possibly has been more influential on the younger generations of fashion photographers.