Lillian Bassman

Lillian Bassman’s signature style offers a sensuous and intimate vision of modern women. In New York in the 1950s and 1960s, where sophisticated women were expanding the scope of their lives while being forced into traditional feminine roles, Bassman sought, as she put it, “to photograph fashion with a woman’s eye for a woman’s intimate feelings.” As art historian and critic Deborah Solomon says in her marvelous introduction, “The women who appear in her photographs tend to be tall and attractive, and they have the kind of seductive expression that comes from keeping secrets.”

Like her contemporaries Richard Avedon and Irving Penn, Bassman exploited the medium of fashion photography to capture a dream world of cool repose. So strong is the pull of this vision that it has influenced the fashion designers themselves: John Galliano of Dior has said of Bassman’s photographs, with their “painterly strokes of light,” that “it was this technique and spirit that I wanted to capture in the dressmaking process.” The most desirable models of her time loved to work with her, and even agreed to pose in lingerie and in the nude, because they wanted to see themselves as she would see them. Bassman turned away from fashion photography from the end of the 1960s until 1996, when she began to accept new fashion assignments and to reprint her earlier photographs with an artist’s eye for emotional and formal expression, essentially creating the body of work for which she is famous today.