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Lillian Bassman

American Photographer | Born: 1917 - Died: 2012

Lillian Bassman (June 15, 1917 – February 13, 2012) was an American photographer and painter. Her parents were Jewish intellectuals who emigrated to the United States from Russia in 1905 and settled in Brooklyn, New York. She studied at the Textile High School in Manhattan with Alexey Brodovitch and graduated in 1933. While there, she met the photographer, Paul Himmel, and they were married in 1935; Himmel died in 2009 after 73 years of marriage. From the 1940s until the 1960s Bassman worked as a fashion photographer for Junior Bazaar and later at Harper's Bazaar where she promoted the careers of photographers such as Richard Avedon, Robert Frank, Louis Faurer and Arnold Newman. Under the guidance of the Russian emigrant, Alexey Brodovitch, she began to photograph her model subjects primarily in black and white. Her work was published for the most part in Harper’s Bazaar from 1950 to 1965. By the 1970s Bassman’s interest in pure form in her fashion photography was out of vogue. She turned to her own photo projects and abandoned fashion photography. In doing so she tossed out 40 years of negatives and prints - her life’s work. A forgotten bag filled with hundreds of images was discovered over 20 years later. Bassman’s fashion photographic work began to be re-appreciated in the 1990s. She worked with digital technology and abstract color photography into her 90s to create a new series of work. She used Photoshop for her image manipulation. The most notable qualities about her photographic 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 became one of the last great woman photographers in the world of fashion. Bassman died on February 13, 2012, at age 94.

Source: Wikipedia


Lillian Bassman was born in 1917 into an immigrant family of free-thinking intellectuals, and was brought up with a mindset that allowed her to live as an independent and unconventional woman.She worked as a textile designer and fashion illustrator before working at Harper's Bazaar with Alexey Brodovitch, and ultimately becoming a photographer. Bassman's fashion images are unique, and acheieve their effect through manipulation in the dark room. Appearing in Harper's Bazaar from the 1940's to the 1960's, her work was categorized by their elegance and grace.Bassman had transformed these photographs into original works of art through her darkroom techniques in which she blurs and bleaches the images, investing them with poetry, mystery, and glamour.

Source: Staley-Wise Gallery


Lillian Bassman is one of the great 20th century fashion photographers along with Irving Penn and Richard Avedon. She began her career not as a photographer but as a painter at the WPA and then took courses at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. In 1945, Bassman was appointed Art Director at Junior Bazaar, giving projects to photographers such as Richard Avedon, Robert Frank and Paul Himmel (her husband). Later in 1947, she became the Art Director at Harper’s Bazaar, and her work appeared in Harper’s Bazaar throughout the 1940’s and 50’s. Her work was nearly destroyed in the 70’s by a water leak in her studio, and it was not until the 1990’s that her work was revived. With this new spotlight, Bassman received the Agfa Life Time Achievement Award and the Dem Art Directors Club Award in 1996. During the same year, Bassman began photographing again when she was asked to photograph the Haute Couture collection for New York Times Magazine, the Autumn Collection for Neiman Marcus, as well as work for German Vogue. Her work has been exhibited worldwide.

Source: Peter Fetterman Gallery

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