Lisette Model

Lisette Model photographed by Weegee

Lisette Model (1901-83) is one of the twentieth century’s most significant photographers despite her reputation being built on a few haphazard test rolls shot in the thirties and forties. Her best known works consist of a series of portraits she made using a 35mm camera on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice and on the streets of New York’s Lower East Side.

Model’s photographs are often brutal, full figure close-ups of people’s bodies and faces. Her negatives tend to be crude and out of focus. Unafraid to experiment, in New York, she captured overlapping reflections in store windows and lowered her camera down to the level of the sidewalk in order to catch the frenetic tangle of passing feet.

I am a passionate lover of the snapshot, because of all photographic images it comes closest to truth […] The snap-shooter’s […] pictures have an apparent disorder and imperfection, which is exactly their appeal and their style. The picture isn’t straight. It isn’t done well. It isn’t composed. It isn’t thought out. And out of this imbalance, and out of this not knowing, and out of this real innocence toward the medium comes an enormous vitality and expression of life. 

– Lisette Model

 Through her direct portrayals of modern life, Model emphasised the peculiarities of average people in everyday situations.

© Lisette Model
© Lisette Model
© Lisette Model

Lisette Model allowed herself to fall in love with taking photographs. She didn’t overthink her work; her photographs weren’t staged or planned. Instead, she followed her gut, reacting to the moment as it unfolded. She had nothing to prove and the courage to push the boundaries in order to develop her unique style at a time when the art world was predominately male-orientated.

Model was also resilient. When she ran into difficulties finding assignments, she became a passionate teacher, inspiring Diane Arbus and Larry Fink, and continued shooting her ground breaking photographs right up until her death.

I have often been asked what I wanted to prove by my photographs. The answer is, I don’t want to prove anything. They prove to me, and I am the one who gets the lesson.

– Lisette Model 

Recommended Reading

Lisette Model: Aperture Monograph


This is the first book ever published on Lisette Model and contains over fifty of her greatest images.

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