When I discovered the sultry, monochrome shots of fashion photographer, Lillian Bassman, I couldn't stop pinning.
As artists we draw inspiration from a myriad of sources, one of which is work from other creative fields and those of you who are familiar with my Fashion as Fantasy and Whimsical Heads Pinterest boards, know that I sometimes look to fashion designers and fashion shoots for cross-fertilisation.
Not surprising then, that I find the work of Lillian Bassman, ripe for creative sustenance!
Lillian Bassman was the daughter of bohemian jewish emigrés from Russia and the Ukraine who grew up in New York.
She had a very successful career as a fashion and commercial photographer for Harper's Bazaar, and other periodicals, during the 40's and 50's.
Her particular strength was photographing women - a subject that fascinated her.
The models, freed from the sexual charge so prevalent in the shoots done by male photographers, were able to be more relaxed and open with Bassman.
Although some of Bassman's effects were created during the actual shoot where she would blow smoke on the lens, the darkroom was a place of unfettered experimentation. Here she burned and bleached her images.
“I have no idea where my inspiration came from, but I had the desire to change the hard-edged dimensions of an image. I used to take tissue paper and a spatula and work on it, so the periphery of the image was softened. I didn't, still don't, see colour. I see black and white...”
By the 60s, Bassman grew disillusioned with the stylised fashion shoots withdrew from the world of fashion photography to pursue other projects.
Reinterpreting previous work
In the early 90s during a visit to her home, Martin Harrison, a photo-historian and fan of Bassman's work, found some bags of old negatives from her 50's fashion work. Bassman was intrigued by her old contact sheets and began to print and rework the images she had loved, but the editors had not.
She reworked the images using a combination of darkroom and Photoshop techniques. With no editors to answer to, she was finally able to bring forth the vision she had held all along of how she wanted the photographs to be.
These reinterpretations brought her back into the limelight and she returned to photograph the Paris collections for the New York Times magazine in 1996, and worked for Vogue until 2004.
Bassman's photos as creative inspiration
Regardless of your artistic discipline, Bassman's photos are inspiring.
The bravery of her experimentation, the incredible levels of contrast she achieved, as well as those dreamy, diffused edges so reminiscent of charcoal - any or all might provide jumping off points for our own work.
What ideas might Bassman's techniques inspire you to try? Share in the comments!
While this listing shows when some of Bassman's most famous images were shot, I couldn't find documentation which clearly indicated which photographs were retouched later and which are in their original state - so we are left to speculate. Perhaps that's just part of the ambience of mystery that Bassman was so good at creating.