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.

Timeline

1917
Born in Brooklyn, USA
1933
Studied at the Textile Highshool in New York, USA
1934
Became assistant painter at the Works Progress Administration
1939
Studied at Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, USA
1945
Art Director for Junior Bazaar, gave projects to photographers Richard Avedon, Robert Frank, and Paul Himmel
1947
Appointed Art Director at Harper’s Bazaar
1996
Agfa Lifetime Achievement Award
1996
Dem Art Directors Club Award
1996
Photographed the Haute Couture collection for New York Times Magazine, German Vogue, and the Autumn Collection for Neiman Marcus
2012
Died in New York, USA

Exhibitions

2010
Retrospective, The Wapping Project, London, England (solo)
2006
Retrospective, Peter Fetterman Gallery, Santa Monica, USA (solo)
2005
Farmani Gallery, Los Angeles, USA
"A Touch of Mystery," Monika Mohr Galerie, Triennale der Photographie Hamburg 2005, Hamburg, Germany
2004
Staley-Wise Gallery, New York, USA
2003
Galerie f5,6, Munich, Germany
2002
Garden Prado, Madrid, Spain
1999
"Les dames de Bazaar," Rencontres de la photographie, Arles, France
1997
Peter Fetterman Gallery, Los Angeles, USA
Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, USA (solo)
1994
“Hommage a Lillian Bassman,” Caroussel du Louvre, Paris, France
Jane Jackso Gallery, Atlanta, USA (solo)
1993
Palais du Tokyo, Paris, France
Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York, USA (solo)
1974
Stämpfli Gallery, New York, USA