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Art HERstory: Lillian Bassman

This week, I’m very excited to introduce you to the creative and captivating Lillian Bassman. Internationally known for her photography, I’m going to focus on her time as an art director at Junior Bazaar (1945-1948). It surprises me that Ms. Bassman’s work isn’t more celebrated. She bravely brought unheard-of fashion ideas to postwar America. Her designs were innovative and aimed at captivating teenage girls. At a time when few women had leading roles, her green-haired models were a daring take at the modern woman.

Above: Covers from November 1945, June 1946 and July 1946

Junior Bazaar (1945-1948) was a take-off of Harper’s Bazaar, which targeted an audience of teenage girls concerned with fashion and beauty. It arrived immediately after Word War II and disappeared almost as quickly. Rare surviving copies (which I’ve placed very high bids on, but have never won :( ) contain features and beautifully layed-out pages very ahead of their time.

Alexey Brodovitch was art director of both Harper’s Bazaar and Junior Bazaar and sought to reach the younger audience through a bold use of color, photography and graphics. Lillian Bassman was brought in to provided the magazine with it’s unique style of photography.

Above: Lillian Bassman and her husband, Paul Himmel, circa the 1940s.

Lillian Bassman’s experimental and romantic visions revolutionized fashion photography. In fact, Vanity Fair magazine singled her out as one of photography’s “grand masters.” Bassman’s dramatic photographs and art direction is full of fun, glamour, gracefulness and elegance. Her lovely work is unlike any other.

Ms. Bassman started her career under the legendary Alexy Brodovich, the Art Director of Harper’s Bazaar, and ultimately decided to learn photography herself. A friend of Richard Avedon, she was given permission to use his studio while she was in Paris.

Bassman’s photo shoot of a model in lingerie impressed the model enough to show her advertising executive husband, and suddenly, after only two months as a photographer, Bassman’s career truly took flight at Harper’s Bazaar.

At Harper’s Bazaar from the 40s through the 60s, Lillian Bassman brought a sophisticated, new aesthetic to fashion photography with her elegant, moody, and often abstract images. Bassman’s work diverged from classic fashion photography in that she did not rely on beautiful models and clothes as the sole essence of her photographs.

In the 1970’s, Bassman’s interest in pure form began to clash with the changing interests of the fashion industry, and she abandoned photography for painting, purging herself of forty years of work, and closing her studio. Miraculously, when a bag of twenty year old negatives was recovered, interest in her work was revived. In recent years, her prints have received renewed attention, with the publication of several portfolios in the New York Times Magazine, a campaign for Neiman Marcus, and the publication of her book, “Lillian Bassman.

Bassman has also been honored internationally with a number of exhibitions and one-person shows worldwide, from New York, Milan, and Paris, to Spain, Germany, and London.


Junior Bazaar was a design laboratory always experimenting with photographers and design styles and techniques. Bassman said the young magazine ultimately failed due to it’s “less realistic” attitude towards it’s young audience than idea magazines such as Seventeen. It was more fashion design driven, where Seventeen was trying to help girls deal with teenage problems.

After the folding of Junior Bazaar, Bassman was sought after by labels such as Chanel and Balenciaga and her work at the magazine is a testament of why.

Today, Lillian Bassman is 89 and still accepts fashion assignments.

Note: All images were scanned and info was taken from the Mar/April 2006 issue of Print Magazine.

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