Lillian Bassman summed up herself and her work as “completely tied-up with softness, fragility and the personal problems of a feminine world”. In this retrospective work of her seminal lingerie work, her ethos is summed up just as succinctly in the body of the book.
Lillian Bassman’s work was by women, for women. The subjects live in their own feminine spheres. No male gaze here; the woman is confident and self assured and the only person permitted to scrutinise her is herself. They are erotic but not overtly sexual creatures – their unconscious sensuality is the erotic X factor.
As a fashion photographer, Bassman is mistress of the black and white image. Bodies take almost abstract shapes and are often overexposed in a style very reminiscent of Man Ray, who worked as a photographer for Harper’s Bazaar at the same time as Bassman, who was then a graphic designer.
This slim volume is low on words but high on impact and thoughtfully laid out in an entirely monochromatic scheme that best showcases the at times dreamy and ethereal, practical and homespun or beguiling and artistic work of Lillian Bassman. It’s hard to imagine that she destroyed the bulk of her commercial work during the rise of the supermodel. Fortunately, some of her work was discovered in a rubbish bag in her Manhattan home. I’m glad that it was, for without it we might not have had this wonderful book – a brief insight into a woman’s world without the sexism of Mad Men, but all of the style.