Lillian Bassman

Lillian Bassman

2004 Honoree: Outstanding Achievement in Fashion Photography


Heri Cartier-BressonLillian Bassman’s experimental and romantic visions revolutionized fashion photography. In fact, Vanity Fair magazine singled her out as one of photography’s “grand masters.” Full of mystery, sensuality, and expressionistic glamour, Bassman’s dramatic black and white photographs capture secret moments and dream memories. Her work is elegant, graceful and totally original. Bassman’s unique images achieve their effect through darkroom manipulation, specifically by blurring and bleaching areas of the photographs.

Ms. Bassman started her career under the tutelage of Alexy Brodovich, the Art Director of Harper’s Bazaar, and ultimately decided to learn photography herself. A friend of Richard Avedon, she was given permission to use his studio while he was in Paris.

Bassman’s photo shoot of a model in lingerie impressed the model enough to show her advertising executive husband, and suddenly, after only two months as a photographer, Bassman’s career truly took flight at Harper’s Bazaar.

At Harper’s Bazaar from the 40s through the 60s, Lillian Bassman brought a sophisticated, new aesthetic to fashion photography with her elegant, moody, and often abstract images. Bassman’s work diverged from classic fashion photography in that she did not rely on beautiful models and clothes as the sole essence of her photographs.

In the 1970’s, Bassman’s interest in pure form began to clash with the changing interests of the fashion industry, and she abandoned photography for painting, purging herself of forty years of work , and closing her studio. Miraculously, when a bag of twenty year old negatives was recovered, interest in her work was revived. In recent years, her prints have received renewed attention, with the publication of several portfolios in the New York Times Magazine, a campaign for Neiman Marcus, and the publication of her book, “Lillian Bassman.”

Bassman has also been honored internationally with a number of exhibitions and one-person shows worldwide, from New York, Milan, and Paris, to Spain, Germany, and London.