Lookbooks: Lillian Bassman: Women

I woke up with a weird feeling that I had met Lillian Bassman at the Bata Shoe Museum. Could this be true or just a dream?

I’ve been Googling the iconic photographer all day trying to answer this question. I am disturbed that I cannot remember if this event actually happened or not, because this is the kind of thing you definitely should be able to recall with conviction.

Bassman worked as a photographer and art director at Harper’s Bazaar From the 1940s until the 1960s. In the ’70s she lost interest in the fashion world, packed up her negatives and pitched them. Then, in 1991, the painter Helen Frankenthaler, who was renting studio space from Bassman, found a bagful of these forgotten images. A book was published and Bassman was back in demand.

Bassman was never fully part of the fashion world. Married to Paul Himmel, protégée of Alexey Brodovitch and pal to Richard Avedon, Bassman started out as an illustrator. Her painterly images were famous for pushing light and shadow to extremes and blurring edges to create a romantic kind of abstraction.

This is around the time I think I met her. In my memory/dream it was springtime and she had a very distinct style, sort of what I imagine people who have places in the Hamptons dressed like. Not at all Bohemian. Because it was the Shoe Museum, I took note of her footwear and it was like a moccasin or topsider or something sort of preppy. She was like 82 but very spry and funny.

Now she’s 93, still working (although she’s abandoned her famed darkroom techniques for Photoshop). Last fall, a monograph of her more recent work called Lillian Bassman: Women.

Click here for a neat segment on Bassman from Fashion Television.