Sunday, February 7, 2010

Book Review: Lillian Bassman Women

Sometimes life seems to be a series of serendipitous events. I first saw this image on the blog Studio Judith where artist/designer Judith had written about the mystery of a woman wearing veils but did not know who to credit the image to. A day later, while watching Fashion Television, I saw the image flash by on the screen during an interview with the photographer.  After seeing hearing Lillian Bassman's spirited and lively interview, I wanted to buy the book. And yesterday, there was the book staring at me.... just in time to inspire me for a photo shoot I'm doing this afternoon.

Photographer Lillian Bassman recently celebrated her 93rd birthday and also published this book called simply Lillian Bassman Women. Filled with extraordinary black and white fashion imagery that are a cross between abstract painting and photography, Lillian's work is hauntingly beautiful and unique beyond measure.

Even more astonishing is that Lillian only recently came back to fashion photography after a hiatus of twenty-two years. Having first picked up a camera in 1947, Lillian was a sought-after photographer during the 1950s and 1960s and was known to "photograph fashion with a woman's eye for a woman's intimate feelings." But in 1971 and 1972, Lillian destroyed most of her fashion photographs. She had come to believe that fashion photography was formulaic with little room for experimentation and had moved on. During this period, Lillian rented out the ground floor of her carriage house to Helen Frankenthaler who used it as her studio. In 1990, Frankenthaler found some bags bulging with negatives and returned them to Lillian. In 1994, Lillian returned to the darkroom and started making new prints, exploring new interpretations of the images. Since then, she has adopted Photoshop as her darkroom tool of choice saying that "The computer is as good a tool as any for creating experimental effects". Given that she is in her nineties, she serves as an example of how to embrace change.

This oversize book is filled with exquisite images of Lillian's work, capturing an abstracted form of painterly elegance and beauty that is difficult to put into words. If I could, I would love to be her apprentice/intern, because the spirit of what she has done - creating photography with a painterly quality - is exactly what I hope to achieve with the documentation of my mother's dress collection. I will be studying Lillian's photographs with great intensity and trying to recreate her magic on my images using Photoshop!

Title: Lillian Bassman Women
Introduction by: Deborah Soloman
Photographs by: Lillian Bassman
Published by: Abrams, New York 2009
Category: Non-fiction, Photography
Number of Pages: 228
Price: US$50, Canada $64.99 UK 29.99