Image / Barbara Mullen, Flat Hat, Bare Back, Harper's Bazaar, New York, 1958

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Barbara Mullen, Flat Hat, Bare Back, Harper's Bazaar, New York, 1958
Bassman, Lillian
Date Created and/or Issued
Publication Information
Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery
Contributing Institution
Claremont Colleges Library
Photography from the Scripps College Collection
Rights Information
The contents of this item, including all images and text, are for personal, educational, and non-commercial use only. The contents of this item may not be reproduced in any form without the express permission of Scripps College and the Peter Fetterman Gallery. Any form of image reproduction, transmission, display, or storage in any retrieval system is prohibited without the written consent of Scripps College and ©Lillian Bassman Courtesy Peter Fetterman Gallery. Scripps College retains all rights, including copyright, in data, images, documentation, text and other information contained in these files. For permissions, please contact: Scripps College, Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery Attn: Rights and Reproductions, 1030 Columbia Avenue, Claremont, CA 91711 and the Peter Fetterman Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave #A1, Santa Monica, CA 90404
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. Item described by Catherine Sweatt, Academic Year Wilson Intern, 2010-2011.
Black-and-white photography
Gelatin silver print
Women photographers
Time Period
1946 to present
New York
Silver gelatin print on paper; black and white photography; 14 in. x 11 in. (35.56 cm x 27.94 cm)
Photography from the Scripps College Collection

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