Lillian Bassman, Lisa Fonssagrives, New York, 1961
Lillian Bassman, Harper’s Bazaar, Barbara Miller, Paris, 1949
Lillian Bassman, Across the Restaurant, 1949 (printed 1994)
The photographic career of Lillian Bassman (b. 1917) encapsulates the multi-valenced trajectories of many professionals in the fashion industry. Coming from a background in textile design, painting, and illustration, in 1941 Bassman became an assistant to Alexey Brodovitch, the art director of Harper’s Bazaar (1938–58). In 1945, she became director of the short-lived Junior Bazaar (1945–48). Bassman photographed her first collection in 1947, and worked on her own projects, utilizing the darkroom of George Hoyningen-Huene and the studio of Richard Avedon, two of her professional colleagues. With her husband photographer Paul Himmel, she opened her first studio in 1951. Bassman worked steadily for a span of about ten years, eventually withdrawing from the field to pursue other projects such as painting and teaching.
Bassman’s images were brought back into the public sphere in the early 1990s, initially by the curator Martin Harrison. Although much work had been discarded, remaining negatives were re-worked and exhibited in gallery and museum shows. In 1996 Bassman photographed collections for the New York Times Magazine, German Vogue, and Neiman-Marcus.
Bassman’s work, in both its original and later forms, uses pictorialist strategies such as selective focus and imprecise detail, along with modernist and cinematic framing devices to create images of fragmentary, hermetic femininity, simultaneously iconic and spontaneous.