Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Lillian Bassman: Master Of The Fashion Curve
Now in her 90s, Lillian Bassman continues to produce groundbreaking imagery for some of the biggest names in the fashion business
In 2004, at age 87, famed fashion photographer Lillian Bassman “discovered” Photoshop. She began revisiting the images she had created for Harper’s Bazaar to see if she could use this state-of-the-art technology to give a new interpretation to the classic elegance she had captured on film a half-century earlier.
Bassman began her career in the 1940s with Junior Bazaar, then Harper’s Bazaar, not as a photographer, but as a graphic designer. When she picked up the camera, she brought her design skills with her. She found that manipulating images in a darkroom utilizing a variety of techniques brought her closer to the feel she was looking for.
Barbara Mullen, New York, 1958. The image was reinterpreted and reprinted as shown here in 1994.
DPP: In the mid-’90s, you did a Neiman Marcus shoot and a Paris fashion assignment for The New York Times Magazine. What brought you back into photography after an extended absence?
Lillian Bassman: I had an absence from commercial work, but I had kept working on my own. I did a series on muscle men. I did a series on fruits and vegetables. I did a series on people. I’ve always taken time away from commercial work to do my own. The last time had just been for a lot longer.
DPP: But you had taken much of your commercial work and put it in bags.
Bassman: That I did do. I wasn’t interested in the photographs of bras and girdles I had done decades ago. Some things outgrew themselves and some things I saved, especially things I could work on later. I’ve always been interested in going back and changing things.
DPP: Why is that?
Bassman: I first got interested in photography when I was a designer at Bazaar. My husband Paul Himmel was a photographer, but I had never touched a camera. I would go into George Hoyningen-Huene’s darkroom and would experiment with his negatives, doing prints the way I wanted to do them. George worked at Bazaar, and he had a darkroom right on the same floor where I had my office. He was out of the country most of the time, so I would go into his darkroom and play with his negatives just to develop a style for myself. I would take his negatives and tissue over them, playing around them, trying to find an expression of my own even though I hadn’t taken the photograph. Then I started to create photographs using the techniques I had developed. It was a way for me to find my voice.
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