To anyone familiar with the work of german fashion photographer Helmut Newton, french artist Guy Bourdin will not be a stranger. Throughout the 60’s and 70’s both photographers worked for notable magazines such as french Vogue and well-known fashion brands, for which Bourdin created breathtaking images in a creative context.
Many of Bourdin's photographs still appear modern due to his distinctive minimalist aesthetic. Currently the late artists photographies can be seen at the Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin. The exhibit “Image Maker” displays many of his famous imagery and even some of his lesser known works.
One model in particular appears consistently throughout the exhibit. At the time american, 17 year old Nicolle Meyer was considered Bourdin's muse. I met and interviewed her in Berlin where we visited the “Image Makers” exhibit launch.
Simon Lohmeyer: How did your career as a model begin?
Nicolle Meyer: I was first trained as a dancer and then moved to Paris with my family in 1971. I started modelling by just doing one or two little quick trips to Japan as a runway model because there were ad’s put up in my ballet school, which I answered to. The person who was organizing these runway shows suggested, “when you come back from Japan you should really do some editorial work, you look like you would be good at that”, so I did. I went to see a tiny little agency and the first Go See that I went to was Guy, Guy Bourdin.
SL: So it all began in Paris?
NM: Yes, I was sent to Guy’s studio, with only a handful of test shots to show him. The following week, I was booked for Vogue and that’s what started our collaboration together. I worked for 3 years with him very intensely.
SL: Was it love at first sight between you two?
NM: I didn’t come from the fashion world, so I didn’t know who he was and I had no preconceived idea of him. I think that was a great introduction, on both ends. When we met i found him very nice, he was such a gentleman and I felt kind of silly since i had no more than three photos and an identity card to show. But i think that is what made our collaboration so nice, i can’t say it was love at first sight but it was a nice and easy feeling and I was excited to have my first shots for Vogue right off the bat, it was great.
SL: Over the years of working with him, what do you think was it that he loved about you particularly as a model?
NM: Well in particular I think what he really liked was my openness and free spiritedness, and willingness to work and be part of his images regardless what that demanded. Since I came from the dance world I liked challenging positions and I liked that he was so highly creative. This was a pre-digital era, and Guy had to be very ingenious to make certain images. Often they demanded a lot of preparation and involved holding strenuous positions. I think he appreciated my enthusiasm and my willingness to try out whatever he had in mind to do. I enjoyed it.
SL: To me, muse is a big word. If you look it up, it means to really inspire an artist. What made you his muse?
NM: I think my willingness to try out whatever he had in mind gave him the freedom he needed to experiment. I am sure other models did this as well but there was an intuitive understanding between us. My family were fine art dealers and I grew up surrounded by hard work and art. I kind of always felt where he was going with his ideas and what he wanted to do, i understood him. I don’t want to overanalyze it but we both felt very much at ease with each other. For example the San Sebastian, this image with the blood coming from my breasts, these kind of images hung in my parent’s gallery. There was a San Sebastian that I walked past everyday at school and there were nudes and all sorts of imagery, everything that you have in the art world through the ages. So for me, that transition to then work with Guy was very smooth because I could relate to what he was doing.
SL: Did Guy plan a lot of his shoots or did they happen spontaneously?
NM: There was both. He did plan a lot, he usually sketched out a scenario that he had in his mind, and then sets would be built in a studio. That could sometimes even take a couple of days, it was like in theatre and so it did take a certain amount of time. I also traveled with him, we went on a long 2 month road trip and Guy spontaneously saw something that caught his eye, so we would just stop and shoot. He always gave his pictures this very incredible surreal aura, even in the most banal settings.
SL: Did you ever say no to one of his ideas?
R: Coming from the dancing world, I was very free with my body, I had no problem with nudity since I actually thought it was quite liberating. I never had a problem with that, and he never asked me to do something I didn’t want to do. Sometimes an Image wouldn’t work out properly, so then he would try it with another model or another group of models but there was never something i didn’t want to do.
SL: Is there anything you didn’t like about his character?
NM: No. He was very precise and so he was very demanding, but all artists are demanding because they have a vision that they want to achieve. That goes with the territory. I enjoyed my work with him.
SL: How did he make you feel as a model while shooting?
NM: I felt beautiful. There are many images where you don’t even really know it’s me because it’s only my leg or it’s my bottom or I am just a body part. But I always felt beautiful. Also there was always a lot of makeup, it was important to him. It’s almost like you are hiding behind that facade of makeup, so you can take on a different character which is quite liberating. It was fun and glamorous.
SL: Did you become friends with him?
NM: No, I can’t say friends because there was a big age difference. But we had a nice work relationship. I stopped modeling very abruptly and cut all ties to the fashion world and joined a band in Germany. A couple of years later I reconnected with him to ask if he would shoot our record cover, which he did do. That was a different relationship because I was married and i wasn’t the model anymore, i was doing my own thing.
SL: What was your most memorable moment with Guy?
NM: That’s a tough one, there are so many. The memories are more like a film in my mind, it’s a conglomeration of all the times working with him. But maybe an especially memorable one is the San Sebastian we did at Karl Lagerfeld’s Château. That really felt like we were in a film, and we perpetuated that feeling throughout the whole week. I kind of lived in character even when we were not shooting. I felt that was so magical, like a dream world. That is probably one of the more vivid memories and cherished ones.
SL: You have experienced so many great things, what do you do now?
NM: Now I live between New York and Mexico and I have a artisanal winery in the south of France in Languedoc. For the past six years I have been making wine under my own label, and I am very proud to have won two awards this year. I have always been going from one thing to the another, one could criticize that and say “why didn’t you stay with one thing?” I’ve had a very varied parcour, always done a lot of different things and enjoy that.