Lillian Bassman

Zurich

18 November 2016 - 18 February 2017

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Mary Jane Russell, New York, Harper's Bazaar, 1950

Press Release

Edwynn Houk Gallery Zurich is pleased to announce its first exhibition of photographs by Lillian Bassman. The show, on view from the 18th of November until the 14th of January, will feature 14 prints showcasing the legendary fashion photographer's stylistic development. Edwynn Houk Gallery exclusively represents the artist’s Estate.

A seminal figure in the history of fashion photography, Lillian Bassman's photographs appeared on the pages of Harper's Bazaar from the late 1940s through the 1960s. She trained and worked under famed art director Alexey Brodovitch, eventually becoming art director of Junior Bazaar in 1945, until the magazine's closure in 1948. While working as art director, Bassman regularly hired photographers such as Richard Avedon, Arnold Newman, and Robert Frank. By 1946, Bassman began taking her own photographs and swiftly transitioned from art director to fashion photographer. Her first photograph was published in Bazaar in 1947 and her first editorial story in 1948.

Known for blurred silhouettes, exaggerated gestures, and unusual compositions, Bassman's photographs illustrate the mystery and glamour of the modern woman. Transforming her images with bleaching and toning techniques in the darkroom, she introduced a new aesthetic and revolutionized fashion photography. “I tried to make my pictures soft and flowing,” Bassman explained, “I was never interested in the straight print.”

In the early 1970s, after decades as a successful fashion photographer, she became disillusioned by the state of the commercial world of fashion photography. Bassman stopped taking assignments, left the industry and even destroyed most of her negatives and prints. 

Fortunately, an assistant had stored a collection of negatives of Bassman’s brilliant early work in her Upper East Side carriage house where they remained hidden for twenty years. They were found in the 1990s by a friend who suggested that Bassman look at the images again. She did, and began re-interpreting them, using the darkroom and later the computer, to change the original framing, accentuate contrast and image softness, and retouch the background. These singular works led to a renewed interest in her photography among editors, curators, and collectors.

Born in 1917 in Brooklyn, Lillian Bassman worked as an artist's model, a textile designer, and a fashion illustrator before joining Harper's Bazaar in 1941. She lived and worked in New York until her death in 2012. Solo exhibitions of her photographs have been presented in London, Los Angeles, Madrid, Munich, New York, and Paris. In 1996, Bassman received the Agfa Life Time Achievement Award and the Art Directors Club Award. Her images have been reproduced in multiple monographs including Lillian Bassman: Lingerie (2012), Lillian Bassman:Women (2009), and Bassman and Himmel, which accompanied a major retrospective at Haus der Photographie Deichtorhallen Hamburg in 2009. Bassman's photographs are held in major public and private collections worldwide.

For more information, please contact Stefanie Little at stefanie@houkgallery.com