It’s a portrait of a lady, photographed by a lady, curated by another lady and hosted by yet another. A series of fashion photographer Lillian Bassman’s images grace the walls of Donna Karan’s London store in a project curated by The Wapping Project’s Jules Wright.
Lillian Bassman captured women half-turned, often engaged in some activity or other rendered subordinate by their overwhelming beauty. Her high contrast black and white images, some composed, some caught, speak of old Hollywood glamour, when women wore hats and gloves and wouldn’t dream of leaving the house without lipstick. Taken between the late 40s and early 60s, Bassman’s work was published mostly in American Harper’s Bazaar under Alexey Brodovitch and with peers like Richard Avedon and Irving Penn, who needed competitors? She was very much a woman in a man’s world, but when it came to her subjects used her femininity to her advantage. She explains, “It was a sexually very different thing when they worked with men. They felt a charge. They were posing for men. I caught them when they were relaxed, natural, and I spent a lot of time talking to them about their husbands, their lovers, their babies.”
In an exciting collaboration, Jules Wright of the Wapping Project leads a series of talks based on Bassman’s work. Speakers include Jocelyn Phillips, Curator of Photography at Bonham’s Auction House; Ligaya Salazar, Curator of Fashion at the V&A; Magda Kearney, Curator of National Portrait Gallery and the London College of Fashion Gallery and journalist Sue Seward. Here, Jules tells i-D Online how the project came about, talks of the power of Bassman’s work and reveals the key to curating…
How did the collaboration with Donna Karan, The Wapping Project and Lillian Bassman come about? We share common friends and I was approached to come up with an exciting and radical Spring idea for their Conduit Street Store. Lillian’s eloquent, black and white photographs seemed to sit beautifully within this 18th century building and Karan’s palette. And I thought it provocative to put the work of a fine artist in this context.
What is it about Bassman’s work you personally like? What does it say about women? I love the way Bassman photographed women. They seem real, not objects, and she celebrates their beauty in a way which radiated an inner self-confidence, a sense of self. She acknowledges that there is a secret and private life, which is not for sale.
What does Donna Karan’s work say about women? Donna understands that women know how to dress for themselves, that they age and continue to desire. Both recognise that women define themselves and are not defined by men.
Most of the speakers on the agenda are curators, from your experience, what do you think is the most important part of a curator’s role? A curator must be able to assist with an artist’s edit, facilitate the aritst’s work and have the strength of vision to hang a show so that it is visually and intellectually potent while carrying the artist with him/her.
Lillian Bassman at Donna Karan, Conduit Street, London, runs until 11th July.