Lillian Bassman: Lingerie

It's A Cinch: Carmen, New York, Harper's Bazaar 1951 gelatin silver print by Lillian Bassman (Peter Fetterman Gallery)
The Well-Spent Dollar, girdle by Gossard, 1956

Lillian Bassman: Lingerie is a visually rich book of fashion photography, spanning sixty years of Bassman’s career (Bassman passed away just a few months ago in February 2012). If you want to understand anything about the way the fashionable silhouette has changed over those sixty years – a good start would be to look at the lingerie underneath.

The book includes eighty of Bassman’s black and white images, as well as an introductory essay by Eric Himmel, Vice President, Editor-in-Chief at Harry N. Abrams, Inc. He deftly places her in within the context of the fashion magazine world and greater historical events. He describes her working relationship with Alexy Brodovitch and Carmel Snow, art director and editor for Harper’s Bazaar – whom she began working with in 1948. Himmel’s introduction notes, “She was an inveterate observer of women and their ways.” and describes the role of lingerie photography in her career:

“Over time, the photography of women in lingerie became a part of Bassman’s regimen, akin to a painter’s weekly sessions with figure model and sketchbook. As the structured undergarments of the fifties gave way tot he more natural styles of the sixties, she captured a new freedom of movement in her models that replaced the languid sensuality of the earlier photographs. The jobs, both editorial and commercial, as well as sessions with friends to experiment, were occasions to represent the female figure, one of the oldest tasks in art, intimately familiar to Bassman from her days as an artist’s model. . . Each image has passed through many states on the way to its reproduction in this book, but none would be unpleasing to the thirty-one-year-old in her homemade bodice and skirt.”

Happily, the Peter Fetterman Gallery in Santa Monica is currently exhibiting Lillian Bassman: A Life through June 9 at and it includes her lingerie work as well as her other fashion photography. There’s also this marvelous video that Harper’s Bazaar put together – its insightful and reveals much about her career and process.


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