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Lillian Bassman

Fashion photography's doyenne on modern darkrooms, the twisted industry and her career renaissance

by Karen Day in Culture on 11 August 2010

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American photography legend Lillian Bassman, who at 93 says she uses "the same techniques in Photoshop as I did in the darkroom," neatly dismisses both romantic notions of film's purity and digital fantasies of spectacularly-manipulated images. Describing her modern approach, the former Harper's Bazaar art director explains the shift in her career as a simple tool upgrade, "the palette has changed, the end result is the same."

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While her stunning black-and-white photos poetically depict the fine art of fashion, her unwavering reverence for couture doesn't extend to the fashion industry as a whole. "I don't look at fashion photography much and never really have," Bassman says.

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Instead the pioneering photographer turned to textile studies in high school, eventually picking up a camera during her time at Bazaar (where she was also known for promoting the careers of legends like Richard Avedon and Louis Faurer). The magazine published her images over the course of many years until her painterly, experimental style fell out of favor in the '70s. She explains, "For me it changed when the models started getting so young. It's hard for me to look at a $10,000 dress on a 14-year-old girl."

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When she abandoned fashion photography for personal projects, Bassman boldly discarded her life's work—40 years of negatives and prints. Some 20 years later in the '90s, a forgotten bag filled with hundreds of images was discovered, spawning a new wave of fans and inspiring Bassman to take part in the resurgence.

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The relentless artist, whose photographs undoubtedly changed the way the world views fashion, reveals "I enjoy digital photography and at my age it's much more comfortable!"

Check out some of her work in the upcoming group show at London's The Wapping Project Bankside, running from 17 August-4 September 2010.

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