Lillian Bassman (American, June 15, 1917–February 13, 2012) was a photographer, art director, and painter best known for her work in fashion photography. Bassman grew up in Brooklyn, NY, as a product of Jewish immigrants who had come to the United States from Russia early in the century. She graduated in 1922 from Textile High School, where she had received formal training.
While attending the Manhattan school, Bassman was introduced to fellow photographer Paul Himmel (American, 1914–2009), whom she later married in 1935. The two remained together for 73 years until Himmel's death. Bassman had a thriving career as a fashion photographer for Junior Bazaar and Harper's Bazaar in the three decades that followed; she primarily created black-and-white images to offer a stronger contrast between her subjects and the clothes being displayed. This approach was unique at the time, and Bassman's work was groundbreaking, allowing for a more artistic approach in an industry that traditionally had strict formats. Through her groundbreaking work, Bassman was able to help launch the careers of other renowned photographers such as Richard Avedon (American, 1923–2004).
She shifted gears in the early 1970s in response to changing tastes, opting to create her own photo projects and disposing of most of her previous work in the process. In developing these projects, Bassman adapted her skills to incorporate new technologies, using digital photography and photo manipulation software to enhance her work, always emphasizing the contrast between light and dark. Other notable aspects of her work include the graininess of the pictures and the use of geometrics in her subject placement. Interest in her work for Harper's Bazaar was renewed in the 1990s when some photos thought lost were found in the magazine's archives. Her work has been displayed in prominent galleries such as the Stämpfli Gallery in New York, the Fashion Institute of Technology, and the Garden Prado in Madrid. Her final exhibition was entitled Retrospective, and was held at London's The Wapping Project in 2010. Bassman passed away in 2012.