Lillian Bassman was a photographer, art director and painter who is best known for her work in fashion. After gaining experience as a textile designer and fashion illustrator, Bassman started as an art director for the magazine Harper’s Bazaar under the direction of Alexey Brodovitch. In this function, Bassman promoted the careers of Richard Avedon, Robert Frank, and her husband Paul Himmel.
Bassman’s photographic work is characterized by black-and-white portraits of graceful and elegant women, often society women, actresses, and models, like Barbara Mullen, who was her muse. Through experiments and manipulations in the darkroom, like cropping, toning and blurring the negative with tissues, Bassman transformed her images in order to provide them with a unique mysterious, poetic and glamorous feel.
This artistic approach was unique and groundbreaking at the time and very successful, moreover. From the 1940s until the 1960s, Bassman’s photographs appeared in Harper’s Bazaar on a regular basis. In the early 1970s she changed direction to meet the changing taste of the time, throwing away many of her negatives. Later on she started making use of digital technologies for her photo manipulations, but still with a strong stylistic emphasis on the contrast between light and dark, the graininess of the images and the geometric placement of her subjects. Interest in her work for Harper’s Bazaar was renewed in the 1990s. Bassman was already in her 70s then, when some of these photos thought lost were rediscovered in the magazine’s archive.