Lillian Bassman’s Women: A Return to Elegance
by Caroline Newman
Lillian Bassman’s “Women” is a beautiful ensemble of photographer’s images of fashionable women with an emphasis on light, form, and shadow. The show, at Peter Fetterman Gallery at Bergamot Station will transport you back to a time when fashion photography captured the elegance of the 1940’s and 50’s. Bassman’s highly contrasted, black and white photographs capture poised women with graceful gestures. Accessorized with hats, gloves, and lace, these fashionable women appear photographed in the middle of their daily activities, yet dressed to kill. The eyes of Bassman’s subjects never make contact with the lens. This has the effect of focusing the viewer’s attention on the scene rather than the woman.
One of Bassman’s images depicts a woman in her profile patting her lips. She is dressed in all black with black gloves and a sharply pointed black hat accenting the haughty tilt of the woman’s head. It seems as though she was walking, noticed a reflection of herself and stopped to look. The strong blacks and whites in the image make the points of her fingers and hat sharply stand out. The resulting feeling is one of delicate and precise grace.
In another photograph, a woman is wearing a long dress with a large fabric bow across her chest. She is turning away from the camera so the strong light forms a line from the side of her face, down her neck, shoulder, and all the way down to her hand. The shapes of the light and dark areas of the photograph begin to form a collage pattern. The main focus becomes the bright light and the bow instead of the woman.
There is also an image of a woman lighting her cigarette with help from a man. She’s holding the cigarette as the man holds a lit match. The action seems so ordinary that the more noticeable part of the photograph is the background the man and woman are standing against. It appears to be a metal wall that reflects light in interesting blurry patterns. The light in the background carries over onto the woman’s skirt causing the woman and the wall to blend into each other. The blurring of the background through the use of this technique demonstrates the mastery of photographic technique and the capabilities of the camera.
The highly contrasted and well composed quality to these photographs makes this show a must-see for those who are looking for an aesthetic treat and vintage fashion fix. At Peter Fetterman Gallery through March 7, 2010.
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Tags: Lillian Bassman, Peter Fetterman Gallery, photography gallery, Santa Monica, women