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Lillian Bassman, American, b. June 15, 1907
Barbara Mullen, (Flat Hat, Bare Back), Harper's Bazaar, New York, 1958
Gelatin silver print
14 in. x 11 in. (35.56 cm x 27.94 cm)

Object Type: Photography
Technique: Gelatin silver Process
Credit Line: Scripps College. Purchase made possible by the Jean and Arthur Ames Fund
Accession Number: 2011.3.1

"Barbara Mullen’s celebrated twenty-inch waist is at the center of Flat Hat Bare Back, which Bassman shot for Harper’s Bazaar in 1958. The formal, compositional elements of black-and-white fashion photography, which have since become Bassman’s signature, were nourished in the collaborative partnership she and Mullen began developing in the late 1940s. This was perhaps due in part to Mullen’s ability to do anything with her arms and legs and pose sinuously (1), but also to the rapport Bassman felt for her models.

In her constant attention to light and dark, Bassman brings the black dress to frame the neck and bare back, abstracting them to become a glowing, amorphous form that catches us off guard when paired with Mullen’s obscured, yet recognizable profile. The diagonal symmetry and motion of Mullen’s arms sheathed in black gloves stand in sharp contrast to the horizontal of the flat hat, reminiscent of classical Egyptian fashion. Mullen’s body curves between two parallel vertical lines, which serve as the photograph’s secondary frame. Bassman’s attention to motion is further accentuated by the departure of the anonymous figure from the right of the image. A tableau appears behind Mullen in low resolution, a signature of Bassman’s darkroom techniques of bleaching and tissuing; together, the graininess and blurred edges contribute to the romantic effect for which Bassman is now identified. The inversion of painting as backdrop and human form as tableau suggest that Bassman knows and mischievously challenges the hierarchical distinction between fashion and 'art.'"

(1) Neigher, Julie. “Lillian Bassman: the return of an icon”. L.A. Times 7 February 2010: P1, P6. Print.

By Catherine Sweatt, Academic Year Wilson Intern, 2010-2011


Signed and numbered in pencil on verso.

Gelatin silver print, 1958. Printed 2009-2010.

Object Description
Black and white fashion photograph of woman in low-backed black dress, dark gloves and flat hat, standing at an S-angle.

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