Lillian Bassman, fashion and fine-art photographer, dies 94

paul himmel/abrams books/file 1955

NEW YORK - Lillian Bassman, a magazine art director and fashion photographer who achieved renown in the 1940s and ’50s with high-contrast, dreamy portraits of sylphlike models, then reemerged in the ’90s as a fine-art photographer after a cache of lost negatives resurfaced, died Monday at her home in New York. She was 94.

Her son, Eric Himmel, confirmed the death.

Ms. Bassman entered the world of magazine editing and fashion photography as a protégé of Alexey Brodovitch, the renowned art director of Harper’s Bazaar. In late 1945, for a spinoff called Junior Bazaar, she was asked to be its art director, a title she shared with Brodovitch, at his insistence.


In addition to providing innovative graphic design, Ms. Bassman gave prominent display to future photographic stars like Richard Avedon, Robert Frank, and Louis Faurer, whose work whetted her appetite to become a photographer.

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Already, at Harper’s Bazaar, she had begun frequenting the darkroom on her lunch hours to develop images by the great fashion photographer George Hoyningen-Huene, using tissues and gauzes to bring selected areas of a picture into focus and applying bleach to manipulate tone.

Ms. Bassman became highly sought after for her expressive portraits of slender, long-necked models advertising lingerie, cosmetics, and fabrics. Lillian Violet Bassman was born in Brooklyn and grew up in the Bronx.

Ms. Bassman took a fresh look at her earlier work in the 1990s. She began reprinting the negatives, applying some of the bleaching techniques and other toning agents with which she had first experimented in the 1940s, creating more abstract, mysterious prints.

Her reinterpretations, as she called them, found a new generation of admirers. A career revival ensued, with gallery shows and international exhibitions.