Lisette Model & Berenice Abbott

Lisette Model

Fig 6. Portrait of Lisette Model
Lisette Model studied and worked in a number of different artistic media from music to painting before devoting herself to photography. She was a charismatic personality and teacher of photography.  Model was fascinated by images of street life.  Views of legs on walkways, stretching shadows on concrete sidewalks, and reflections in shop windows featured prominently in her work. She had an equal interest in double meanings.  For example, her Window Reflections series, 1940 hints at not only the literal reflection of the figure in the glass but also the thoughts of "the man" as he looks, perhaps, not into the store itself but at his own reflection, pondering his own existence against a backdrop of blurred goods.

Lisette Model was originally born Elise Amelie Felicie Stern on November 10, 1901.  Her heritage was a combination of Italian-Austrian from her father and French from her mother.  They were a wealthy, educated family living in Austria.  Lisette was privileged to have an international education through travel having been taught by private tutors rather than in public school.

Shortly after her father’s death, she moved to Paris.  During the time she lived in Paris, she married painter Evsa Model and began to study visual arts and dabble in photography.  Her first camera was a Rolleflex.  The Rolleflex was noted for its exceptional construction, compact size, reduced weight, superior optics, durable, simple, reliable mechanics, and bright viewfinders.  With the help of a friend, Model learned to use the camera and discovered early on the most important lesson in her photographic career; never take a picture of anything you are not passionately interested in.

In 1934, Lisette went to Nice to visit her mother.  While she was there, she took several images on the Promenade des Anglais.  Today this series of portraits is her most widely reproduced and exhibited set of images.  The images focused on the affluent locals, giving a close-up, dispassionate, untouched interpretation of narcissism, self-doubt, and isolation. They were a precursor to Lisette Model’s future work.

Lisette and Evsa came to the United starts in 1937 to visit his parents.  Lisette was overwhelmed by the visual stimuli of New York City, so vastly different from Europe at the time.  "For a year and a half I took no pictures. I was blind because it was all too different," she said (

In 1940, Models’ first photographs were published in
Cue, a magazine dedicated to the happenings in New York City.  The images were of multiple reflections in plate-glass windows of fashionable Fifth Avenue shops. When P.M. Magazine ran a story about the images, it created a sensation and new doors began to open for Model. Many national publications began to feature her work.  In 1942, Look magazine published her photographs of an open-air patriotic rally in downtown New York under the title "Their Boys are Fighting."  Model’s photographs also appeared in The Ladies Home Journal, Vogue, The Saturday Evening Post, Popular Photography, Modern Photography, U. S. Camera, Cosmopolitan, and other magazines.

Models first solo exhibition was displayed at the Photo League in 1941.  She has been exhibited at The Museum of Modern Art from 1941 on.  Edward Steichen, the director of MoMa, said of her work:

Lisette Model is one of the foremost photographers of our time. Her prints record a relentless probing and searching into realities among people, their foibles, senselessness, sufferings, and on occasion their greatness. The resulting pictures are often camera equivalents of bitter tongue-lashings. She strikes swift, hard and sharp, then comes to a dead stop, for her work is devoid of all extraneous devices or exaggerations. (

Lisette Model’s took a straightforward and unyielding approach to photography as a medium as well as to her subjects. Her pictures were unstaged and unedited.  She was spontaneous about her methods and did not work in a predetermined visual structure.  Through her work, she captivated stark realism and searched for the truth through photography. 

Fig. 7 Reflections
Fig. 8 Gallagher’s People
Fig. 8 Singer At The Cafe Metropole
Fig. 9 Reflections, New York City, Fifth Avenue (Pin Up)