Blind Magazine : photography at first sight
Photography at first sight
Search
Close this search box.
Lilian Bassman: The Fashion of Photography

Lilian Bassman: The Fashion of Photography

Lillian Bassman is known for her modernising influence on the post-war fashion industry. At once a fashion photographer and art editor at Harper’s Bazaar, she was renowned for her high-contrast images of contemporary society women, actresses, and models, whom she photographed through the 1950s to 70s. Atlas Gallery celebrates her legacy in their exhibition Redefining Fashion.

As a result of directives from the authorities in each country, most exhibitions are suspended, postponed or cancelled. We decided to publish the articles about them anyway, especially when we could see them before they closed. For more information on our editorial line during this period, you can read our editorial here.


© The Estate of Lillian Bassman, courtesy of Peter Fetterman Gallery

Lillian Bassman took her leave from the fashion industry in 1970, when she became disillusioned by the new breed of ‘supermodels’, who she felt dictated rather than took direction. She did, however, return to her work in the 1990s, recovering a number of negatives and making a series of reinterpretations that took the expressionistic quality in her work to new heights. At the time of her death in 2012, at the age of 94, Bassman’s work had regained traction. The success of her reinterpretations procured her several high-profile commissions, one for the New York Times magazine in 1996, and another for Vogue in 2004. 

Bassman argued that the key to her success was that women were able to relax with her and open up about their lives; “they never had to seduce me in the way they had to seduce men”. Her photographs therefore have a power to them that remained largely unseen in other works taken at the time, greatly contributing to what was described as Bassman’s ‘modernising influence’. The women in her photographs are self-contained, visibly enjoying their own space and presence.


© The Estate of Lillian Bassman, courtesy of Peter Fetterman Gallery

Another modernizing factor in Bassman’s work was the editing techniques she used. In the 1990s, she accentuated the stylised vision she had explored in her early career. Her prints are developed in high contrast, and are over-exposed, abstract, luminous, soft yet captivatingly dramatic. The models are silhouettes, consumed by blankets of light and darkness, with only a whisper of their features visible. In this sense, Bassman resists objectifying the models, showing only an impression of them, and subverting the male gaze without losing the female form.


© The Estate of Lillian Bassman, courtesy of Peter Fetterman Gallery

Lillian Bassman s’est retirée du monde de la mode en 1970, déçue par la nouvelle génération de « supermodèles », qui lui semblait suivre des directives plutôt que prendre des initiatives. Pourtant, elle a recommencé à travailler dans les années 1990, réinterprétant d’anciens négatifs pour en faire une série où l’expressionisme de son travail prend une nouvelle dimension. En 2012, lors de son décès à l’âge de 94 ans, le travail de L. Bassman avait repris de la vigueur. Le succès de ses réinterprétations lui a valu plusieurs commandes prestigieuses, notamment pour le magazine New York Times, en 1996, et pour Vogue, en 2004.

Selon L. Bassman, sa réussite tenait à ce que les femmes étaient détendues avec elle et pouvaient lui parler à cœur ouvert : « Elles n’avaient jamais besoin de me séduire comme elles devaient séduire les hommes ». Ses images ont donc une assurance que l’on trouve rarement dans les œuvres de cette époque, d’où ce que l’on a appelé « l’influence novatrice » de L. Bassman. Les femmes qu’elles photographient sont autonomes, et visiblement à l’aise dans leur espace.


© The Estate of Lillian Bassman, courtesy of Peter Fetterman Gallery

Le travail de L. Bassman est également novateur en raison des techniques de retouche qu’elle a utilisées. Dans les années 1990, la vision stylisée qu’elle avait eue au début de sa carrière s’est accentuée. Ses tirages sont très contrastés, surexposés, abstraits, lumineux, à la fois flous et fascinants de par leur caractère dramatique. Les modèles sont des silhouettes, enveloppées de pans de lumière et d’ombre, et dont les traits sont à peine visibles. L. Bassman résiste ainsi à l’objectivation des modèles en ne faisant que les suggérer, ce qui déroute le regard masculin tout en conservant la forme féminine.


© The Estate of Lillian Bassman, courtesy of Peter Fetterman Gallery

© The Estate of Lillian Bassman, courtesy of Peter Fetterman Gallery

© The Estate of Lillian Bassman, courtesy of Peter Fetterman Gallery

Par Sarah Roberts

Lillian Bassman : Redefining Fashion

27 février – 18 avril 2020

49 Dorset Street, Londres W1U 7NF

Horaires d’ouverture : lundi – vendredi : 10h – 18h, samedi : 11h – 17h

Don’t miss the latest photographic news, subscribe to Blind newsletter.