Pictured above: Photography by Lillian Bassman
Lillian Bassman, one of the most important fashion photographers of the 20th century, died February 13, 2012 at 94. Her provocative images teased the eye and conjured up a euphoric sensual dream world that placed her in constant demand.
Beginning in the 1940s through to the 1960s Lillian Bassman worked as a fashion photographer for Junior Bazaar and later at Harper’s Bazaar where she was instrumental in promoting the careers of photographers such as Richard Avedon, Robert Frank, Louis Faurer and Arnold Newman.
With the mentoring of Russian emigrant, Alexey Brodovitch, Bassman began to photograph her model subjects most primarily in black and white.
In the greater part, Lillian’s work was published in Harper’s Bazaar between 1950 to 1965.
By the 1970s Bassman’s interest in pure form in her fashion photography was vastly out of vogue, clashing with the changing fashion world. Disheartened, she looked inward favoring her own photography, thus abandoning fashion photography. Disillusioned, she tossed out some 40 years of negatives and prints that amounted to her life’s work to that date. Bassman’s work was retrieved, in a long forgotten bag, some 20 years following….her brilliant works were recovered and shared again with the world.
Lillian enjoyed a resurgence at fashion’s forefront, through exhibitions at museums and galleries worldwide, experimented with digital technology and abstract color photography into her 90s and creating new bodies of work. She utilized Photoshop for her image manipulation, as well. In the 1990s, Bassman’s fashion photographic was beginning to meet its true potential.
Arguably, the most notable aspects of her photographic body of work are the high contrasts between light and dark, the graininess of the finished photos, and the geometric placement and camera angles of the subjects.
Bassman was born in 1917, the child of Russian emigres, who moved from New Haven to Brooklyn and Greenwich Village. In a remarkably complex life, aside from her incredible photographic genius, Bassman dabbled in painting and textile design. In keeping with her avant gard personality, she was been arrested and booked under the pseudonym “Rosa Bonheur” after her part in a political protest. In an unconditional relationship for the times, Bassman married Paul Himmel after twelve years of their living together. They had two children, Eric and Lizzie.
She was a woman who revolutionised women’s photography and the photography of the female form. Her work was symbolic of one of the great creative personalities of our time.