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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

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Shower nude.
DPP: In recent times, you’ve jointed the Digital Revolution.

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.
DPP: It’s strange to see incredible jewelry and couture clothing on a model who looks to be barely a teenager.

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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