IN ANOTHER LIGHT: The artistically haunting fashion photography of Lillian Bassman will be spotlighted at the Edwynn Houk Gallery in a new exhibition that opens May 12.
Four years after Bassman’s death at the age of 94, her estate is now being represented by the Fifth Avenue gallery. More than 30 photographs will be on display to highlight her stylistic development from early prints to reinterpreted, more dreamlike ones from the Nineties.
Bassman was known for blurred silhouettes, exaggerated gestures and unusual compositions. Her 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.
In the Thirties she saw another side of fashion, working as a model for Joseph Stella, Raphael and Moses Soyer, Arshile Gorky and others during the Thirties. In 1940, Bassman showed fashion drawings she’d done during night classes at Pratt to Harper’s Bazaar’s legendary art director Alexey Brodovitch. Impressed, he lined up a graphic design scholarship for her at the New School, where he taught. At the end of the school year, he awarded his top student with an unpaid apprenticeship and, eventually, a job as his first paid assistant. As art director at Junior Bazaar four years later, she hired young lensmen such as Louis Faurer, Arnold Newman, Robert Frank and, most famously, Richard Avedon in 1945. Her own photographs first appeared on the pages of Harper’s Bazaar in 1946 and were featured through the Sixties.
In the early Seventies, disillusioned by the state of the commercial world of fashion photography, Bassman left the industry and destroyed most of her negatives and prints. Twenty years later, she discovered a box of negatives and began reinterpreting them. Using the darkroom, and later the computer, she changed the original framing, accentuated contrast and blurriness and retouched the background. These images led to a renewed interest in her work among editors, curators, and collectors.
The upcoming show in Midtown at the Edwynn Houk Gallery is appropriate, since Baseman lived and worked in New York throughout her life. She even first befriended her future husband and fellow artist Paul Himmel growing up in Brooklyn — at the age of six.
“Lillian Bassman” will be on view at the Edwynn Houk Gallery through July 8.