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
Bassman: Absolutely. I work with my assistant Steve Lipuma. He does the legwork; I do the Photoshop work. I did a shoot last year just to keep my hand in it, but I don’t really shoot anymore. I take work that I’ve done, Steve scans it, and I work on it in Photoshop. Things that I used to do to an image by bleaching in the darkroom, I now do in Photoshop. I also use the cloning tool quite unconventionally, like it’s a brush, creating more of a painterly image. Sometimes I’ll just take a head or half of a figure and combine things. I also burn and dodge.
DPP: Do you have a favorite model?
Bassman: Barbara Mullen. She would schlep around not carrying herself well, but when she got under the lights in front of the camera, it was like a flower blossoming. She was amazing. It was just incredible how she just grew and grew. I took her to Paris. She was a typical model’s size—no bosom, a tiny waist. She had a beautiful long neck like a giraffe.
DPP: Did the era of the supermodels change fashion photography?
Bassman: It changed it for me. I was doing advertising, and they would come in and give me pose number 1, pose number 2, pose number 3, and I would say, “Go home.” I got very tired of this. A few years ago, I did a job for German Vogue. I had chosen a girl, but she had been called away the morning the sitting was supposed to be. They sent in a beautiful girl with a long elegant body and the face of a two year old. I said, “I can’t do this!” The change from being a woman to being a child dressed up wasn’t for me. That’s when I stopped doing fashion.
Bassman created a number of photographs of women in private moments, such as this one from 1947.
Bassman: It didn’t feel right for me. I said, “Enough.”
DPP: What brought about the shift in the marketplace toward this extreme youth focus from the more mature, elegant look that we find throughout your recent book, Lillian Bassman: Women?
Bassman: Maybe it’s the youth culture. I don’t know what it is. For me, it’s ludicrous to see all this fantastic jewelry piled up on a girl who looks what, like at the most, 15.
DPP: How has your study and experience as a graphic designer affected your approach to photography?
Bassman: I had a very good understanding about how an image would work on a page. For me, all of what goes on in photography is intuitive, and I don’t know whether I’m the kind who thinks creatively in that sense. I just feel certain directions and that’s how I go.
See some of Lillian Bassman’s extraordinary collection of images at the Peter Fetterman Gallery website, www.peterfetterman.com. Women is available at Amazon and other booksellers.
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