Cycling was one of his loves. At the age of eighteen he went on a cycle tour of Provence where he met Lucien Henry, an art dealer. He stayed at his house for six months where he seriously applied himself to drawing and painting and decided to become an artist. When it was time for his military service he ended up in Dakar as an aerial photographer in the Air Force.
After his military service he returned to Paris and found a job as salesman of camera lenses. He still drew and painted and started taking pictures for himself. The seminal moment in his life came when he saw Edward Weston's 1930 photograph, Pepper. That photograph changed his perception of the medium and changed the course of his life. He was influenced by Surrealism and of all the Surrealists his greatest influence was Man Ray. He knocked on his door on six occasions and was turned away by Man Ray's wife. On the seventh Man Ray himself answered the door and invited him in and they became friends. He even wrote the catalogue text to Bourdin's first exhibition in 1952. Two years later at the age of 27 he went to see Vogue who offered him a job. His debut was four pages of hats. One of the pictures featured a woman standing below three skinned calves' heads. It was a bravura statement that marked out the direction of his style as a photographer
Bourdin's chief collaborator was Francine Crescent, who joined Vogue in 1957 as accessories editor and eventually ended up as director in 1977. She first worked with him in 1960. By the time Bourdin was 36, he insisted on full control of his shoots, often chose the pictures to be published himself and overlooked the layout of his pictures. When she was asked by a shoe company, Charles Jourdan, to suggest a photographer for their forthcoming advertising campaign, it was Guy Bourdin she suggested. He insisted on total creative control and that is what he received even though the company was a little frightened. The first photos were a shock and Roland Jourdan received letters saying that the campaign was awful but he stuck with him and never refused a Bourdin picture. From 1967 he produced brilliant campaigns that were eagerly awaited by the media.