Lillian Bassman was ranked among photography legends like Richard Avedon and Irving Penn because of her ability to blend commercial and artistic techniques. She passed away on February 13, but her legacy as a fashion and art photographer lives on in a new exhibition and book.
Bassman grew up in the Bronx and began working at Harper's Bazaar until becoming the art director for Junior Bazaar, a magazine spinoff that focused on teenage girls. It wasn't long before Bassman was the art director for Harper's Bazaar, though, since her drive was evident. In the 1970s Bassman shifted from commercial imagery to purely artistic pursuits. She's quoted in the New York Times as saying: “I did everything that could be photographed: children, food, liquor, cigarettes, lingerie, beauty products.”
Her subject matter transformed from women's products to more abstract visual oddities, anything from vegetables to cracks in the streets. Although her abstract images gained critical acclaim, Bassman was never too far from the fashion world. In the 1990s she photographed the Haute Couture collection for the New York Times Magazine, the Autumn Collection for Neiman Marcus, and images for German Vogue. Bassman's ephemeral edginess remains an unparalleled combination of art and fashion.
Bassman's works will be on view at Peter Fetterman Gallery in Los Angeles until June 9, so there's still time to see her work in person if you're in the area. You can also view her work in "Lillian Bassman: Lingerie," from Abrams books.