Lillian Bassman

Lillian Bassman was born in 1917 in Brooklyn, New York. She reigns today as the doyenne, one of the last great women photographers of the post war period. She was married to Paul Himmel in 1935 and is one of the truly great artist couples, literally of the last Century, they have been married for more that 73 years!

Lillian Bassman's work in black and white is the experimental and romantic vision, as seen mostly in Harper's Bazaar in the 1950's that brought a sophisticated, new aesthetic to print photography. From the 1940's Bassman was at the cutting edge of fashion working as both fashion photographer and art director for Harpers Bazaar. At Junior Bazaar she worked with young photographers such as Richard Avedon, Robert Frank, Louis Faurer, Arnold Newman and Paul Himmel. Then under Russian émigré and Modernist guru Alexey Brodovitch (and while using George Hoyningen-Huene's darkroom), Bassman started shooting pictures herself – diffuse, moody images with an idiosyncratic vocabulary of gestures and an unsettling edge. With their blurred silhouettes and unusual compositions – a gown modelled in a window to resemble a butterfly, a dramatic lingerie model covering her face, a pair of arms hugging naked shoulders- Bassman's images flirts with abstraction and conjures up a sensuous dream world. Bassman soon was in constant demand and, in addition to her editorial work shot campaigns for Chanel and Balenciaga.

By the 1970's Bassman's interest in pure form began to clash with fashion's changing aesthetic. Her increasing disenchantment led her to abandon fashion photography in favour of her own projects. In a bold attempt to free herself creatively from the past, she jettisoned 40 years of negatives and prints – her life's work. Over twenty years later, luck resurrected a forgotten bag, brimful of hundreds of images. Now Bassman is enjoying a resurgence at fashions forefront, with exhibitions at museums and galleries worldwide. At 87, she is now working with digital technology and abstract colour photography to create a new series of work. Her work stands testimony to one of the great creative personalities of our time.

(Text by Martin Harrisson, Lillian Bassman, 1997)

Works from the Artist