Paul Smith Freeze Frames Lillian Bassman

For Harper's Bazaar 1949

Photography is a funny thing. It can have such power inside a book or on a computer screen. But experienced face to paper, it somehow trumps all previous instances of staring at even the most stared at image.
So it happened for me, at least, late last week during an exhibition of a dozen or so iconic (aren't they all, really?) black and whites by the legendary Lillian Bassman, an evening at the Paul Smith shop on Melrose Avenue which was apparently supposed to include the honoree that evening. These are part of the body of work this brilliant lenswoman, who will turn 93 this June, printed and manipulated in recent years. It would have obviously been a great moment to meet her. But being so up close to these marvelous images, provided by the Peter Fetterman Gallery in Bergamont Station, was thrilling, too.

Charles James Dress, Carmen, New York, Harper's Bazaar, 1960

After a prolific career shooting mostly for Harper's Bazaar and various advertising clients, as the 1960s became the next decade and fashions transmuted into something entirely different, a vexed Ms. Bassman gave it up. She trashed years of negatives, and treated others like trash. Luckily, an artist friend using her studio found the bin bags about a decade ago and encouraged Ms. Bassman to return to her first love.
As Ginia Bellafonte wrote in T Magazine last summer on Ms. Bassman's comeback: "Hers was a world of adult sexuality that wasn’t ranted about."

I was particularly taken by an inky image of model Carmen Dell'Orefice in a Charles James gown taken. I can't stop thinking about it, in fact.

Party guest Tere Tereba, looking as beautiful as ever, was apparently taken by a few, too, and she and her other half, the American song legend Jerry Leiber, evidently made more than one sizeable acquisition that mini magical evening.
I left my own lens at home (still no replacement for my treasured Leica, and I didn't have anything small to pack in my clutch!), which was a pity considering how well turned out (nearly) everyone–from designer Katy Rodriguez to stylist Miles Siggins and Paul Smith's Cindy Viera–was Thursday night. It was a Bryan Rabin production, after all. We raised a glass to Velvet Hammer head Michelle Carr, there with Miss Astrid from New York and Annie Sperling. Makeup Mama Sharon Gault got on the horn and roped in collaborator David LaChapelle, who promptly declared his mad love for Ms. Bassman's work.

For more on Lillian Bassman's life-changing work, check out her most recent picture book "Women."

Beauty Personified: Lillian Bassman
Posted in Style

Leave a Comment