Ginia Bellafante writes an incomparable description of Lillian Bassman’s work in the New York Times. A show in Litchfield County is the pretext but the subtext is the growing interest in Bassman’s work from scholars and collectors. Here are some excerpts from the story:
In the early 1970s Lillian Bassman, among the most important fashion photographers of the 20th century, made the decision to dispose of her career, quite literally. Artists do this all the time without the intent — giving themselves over to excess, retreating to ashrams — but Ms. Bassman’s approach was aggressive and determined. Disillusioned by the costuming of the late 1960s, she had had enough of fashion and expressed her disdain by destroying decades’ worth of negatives and placing others in a trash bag in the coal room of her Upper East Side carriage house. Her era of furtive eroticism was over, and there was no point in scrapbooking it. […]
At the same time that she was turning out editorial work Ms. Bassman was having a considerable impact on advertising, photographing lingerie for Warner’s and other purveyors in a manner that abandoned the pharmaceutical aesthetic that then prevailed in the industry’s marketing. (These pictures form a large part of the show at KMR.) In place of heavy-set women constraining themselves in what was essentially equipment, Ms. Bassman deployed immeasurably lithe models, conveying a world in which women seemed to linger in the pleasures of their own sensuality. In her eye the undergarment emerges as a wardrobe unto itself, as if anything else in a woman’s closet were simply an imposition. […]
In the period dominated by Avedon and Irving Penn, Ms. Bassman was one of the few female photographers in the fashion business, and her work had a distinctly different cast from the outset, one less distancing. In most of the lingerie pictures, for example, the faces are averted or obscured, the result of the Ford agency’s insistence that its models not be identifiable in such provocative advertising. The effect of this constraint is not cold anonymity but an unusual intimacy that leaves the images feeling almost entirely divorced from commodity, as if they were the visual entries in the personal journals of the women photographed.
Feminity, Salvaged (New York Times)