2012 has not been a kind year to the creative kind so far. Just a couple of weeks after Eiko Ishioka’s death, the grim reaper struck again, this time taking with him, another great lady of the creative community, photographer Lillian Bassman. Truth be said, she was 94, so it isn’t as if it was completely out of the blue, but it’s still sad to see a woman this talented and groundbreaking die.
I had actually been meaning to do a post about her work for quite some time and after some preliminary research got so enthralled by her work that I actually ended up buying her book “Lillian Bassman: Women” a couple of months ago. Totally worth it I might add, it only furthered my infatuation with her work. For a multitude of reasons, I never got around to do said post, but given this sad event, I guess there’s no time like the present to fix that.
Before turning to photography as a career, Bassman tried textile design, fashion illustration and even some modelling, but a stint at Harper’s Bazaar spiked her curiosity in the world of photography and soon after, she began experimenting with darkroom techniques. She developed her technique which consisted in bleaching, blurring and burning the photos in the dark room, sometimes even painstakingly adding details by hand. This allowed her to fulfill her vision of poetic and romantic elegance and create a new aesthetic, one that resorted to high contrasting, diffuse and moody images filled with grain and with an idiosyncratic vocabulary of gestures. With their blurred silhouettes and unusual compositions Bassman’s images flirted with abstraction and conjured up a sensuous dream world.
“I was interested in developing a method of printing on my own, even before I took photographs,” Ms. Bassman told B&W magazine in 1994. “I wanted everything soft edges and cropped.” She was interested, she said, in “creating a new kind of vision aside from what the camera saw.”.
Basically, before someone even thought of it, Bassman created her own version of modern day Photoshop, that’s how ahead of the game she was!
Her career was quite successful but she grew disenchanted with the fashion world and the way it was evolving and eventually decided to give up during the 70s and pursue other interests.
However, during the 90s her work was rediscovered and she experienced a second surge in her career, re-experimenting with some of her older photos and creating some new ones.