“She makes visible that heartbreaking invisible place between the appearance and the disappearance of things,” wrote Richard Avedon about photographer Lillian Bassman, who died at 94 in her home at Manhattan last week.
Like her contemporary Irving Penn, who passed away last year at age 92, Bassman worked on her art until the very end of her life. The photo above, titled “It’s a Cinch,” was taken for Harper’s Bazaar in 1951. At that time, model Stella Tennant, who appears in the shot below (part of this shoot for Vogue Germany), wasn’t even born yet – and wouldn’t be born for another 19 years.
Bassman lived an extraordinary life. The daughter of bohemian Russian-Jewish immigrants living in Brooklyn, she moved in with her husband, fellow artist Paul Himmel, when she 15. Together they survived through the Great Depression: Bassman worked as an artists’ model, while Himmel taught art. They were involved in political strikes of the era, and Bassman once picketed in the nude to protest arts financing cuts. Soon, she got a job co-art-directing Junior Bazaar, one of the most creative and experimental teen girl magazines that ever existed. Junior Bazaar failed because it was too out-there, but it launched Bassman’s fashion photography career, landing her gigs for Harper’s Bazaar.
Over the years, Bassman’s painterly, impressionistic style fell out of fashion. Harper’s Bazaar editor Carmel Snow famously said to her during a shoot, “I didn’t bring you to Paris to make art; I brought you here to do the buttons and bows.” Fed up with fashion photography, Bassman famously destroyed most of her negatives in the 60s. It wasn’t until the early 90s that a fashion historian urged her to revisit the few negatives she had left. Bassman began experimenting anew, and re-emerged as a force in fashion photography. She embraced new technologies, discovering Photoshop when she was 87.
After the jump, a collection of Bassman’s work, past and present.