Lillian Bassman (1917-2012), A Report to Skeptics, Suzy Parker, 1952. © The Estate of Lillian Bassman

The Atlas Gallery is holding an exhibition of the famed fashion photographer Lillian Bassman’s work. In her own words Bassman sought “to photograph fashion with a woman’s eye for a woman’s intimate feelings.”

Her graphic, expressive, black and white images feature many high-profile models of the time, including Suzy Parker, Barbara Mullen, Lisa Fonssagrives and Carmen Dell’ Orefice.

Lillian Bassman (1917-2012), Carmen, dress by Charles James, c. 1950s. © The Estate of Lillian Bassman

Overexposed and developed in high contrast, her prints are almost abstract, - the models like silhouettes and their gestures, rather than features, emphasised.  “I tried to make my pictures soft and flowing,” Bassman said of her work. “I was never interested in the straight print and I was trying out soft-focus effects by printing through tissue or gauze and vignetting with ferricyanide bleach”.

Lillian Bassman (1917-2012), The V-Back Evenings [varient] Suzy Parker in a dress by Trigger, New York, Harper’s Bazaar, 1955. © The Estate of Lillian Bassman

It was this technique that allowed her to create what John Galliano described as “painterly strokes of light”.

Working as a fashion photographer and art editor at Harper’s Bazar in the 1950s to the 1970s these images of society women, actresses and models reflect a now-vanished more formal era of hats and set hair. But they also evoke a mirror world of dream-like repose.

Lillian Bassman (1917-2012), dress by Thierry Mugler, German Vogue, 1998. © The Estate of Lillian Bassman

Disillusioned with the fashion industry, she turned away from photography at the end of the 1960s and famously destroyed 40 years’ worth of negatives and prints. However, in 1996 some remaining photo-negatives were discovered and Bassman began making a series of ‘reinterpretations’, using digital photography and even Photoshop.

Bassman’s photographs are not simply images of women wearing couture. The expressionistic glamour of her work captures female gesture, form and posturing.  “I am,” she said, “completely tied up with softness, fragility, and the problems of a feminine world.”

LILLIAN BASSMAN: Redefining Fashion opens on the 27th February at the Atlas Gallery 59 Dorset Street, W1U 7NF.