Lillian Bassman’s photography of women in lingerie from the 40s and 50s, many shot for lingerie company ad campaigns, is a stark reminder of just how brashly sexual images of women have become today.
In Lingerie, published by Abrams & Chronicle this March, Bassman shows how she brought an intimate, gentle femininity to her beautiful images of women in structured corsets and big pants. Being female, she understood that the rituals women go through when dressing are far more interesting to other women than just plonking a scantily clad lass in revealing knickers on a page.
The images in this book show her models (she made sure it was just her and the model on a shoot, no gawping blokes allowed) coming in and out of bathrooms, straightening stockings and walking around in their dressing gowns not in a sexually provocative way -although they do look gorgeous- but as if they were a smarter version of what you and I do in the mornings. There is one fabulous image of a model painting her toenails, foot jammed up on the sink with a fag in her other hand, today I suspect she’d have to have her own pedicurist in the shot to inject the necessary amount of expected glamour.
It’s a gorgeous book, essential for anyone in the lingerie trade -who I suspect will already know Bassman’s work – and budding photography students who might appreciate the gentle intimacy the images evoke. The models -including Carmen, Barbara Curly, Suzy Parker and Betty Biehn- look so amazing in their Maidenform bras and Gossard girdles that I’m wondering if we should be pushing for a return to such cover-all underwear. I’m sure I’ll get over it. Sadly Bassman has just died, February 2012, at 94, so this is the last book of her work to be published with her at the helm.
Lingerie: Lillian Bassman is published by Abrams & Chronicle. Buy it here