Lisette Model


362 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-88884-605-3
DDC 779'.092





Reviewed by Pauline Carey

Pauline Carey is an actor, playwright and librettist, and author of the
children’s books Magic and What’s in a Name?


Model, born in Vienna in 1901, wanted to devote her life to music. She
was in her 30s, studying voice in Paris, when she abruptly abandoned
this ambition and turned to photography. She moved to New York with her
artist husband five years later, and soon attracted attention with her
photographic series Reflections (windows) and Running Legs
(pedestrians), and in particular with her portraits, some of which have
become unforgettable images in photographic history.

Model is probably best known for her ebullient portraits of “Coney
Island Bather,” which introduced her into Harper’s Bazaar, the
magazine that brought her pictures in the 1940s and 1950s. She rarely
asked permission to photograph people. She seems to have had no fear of
invading people’s privacy, and is quoted as saying, “What one is,
everybody is. . . . As long as I have the feeling, ‘this is me,’ I
can do it.” Although she became well known for her work, she
eventually took to teaching as the only way to earn a living. She proved
to be very good at guiding others, and, as good teachers do, she opened
doors for some extraordinary talents, including Diane Arbus.

This very large book is published in conjunction with a National
Gallery of Canada exhibition of Model’s work, which is currently
travelling in the United States and Canada, and heading for Europe in
1992. Thomas’s narrative follows Model’s personal life and career in
great detail, and the pages are enriched with small photo illustrations
and sidebar comments on and by Model and her contemporaries. More than a
hundred Model photographs from the exhibition are reproduced, in full
page, from gelatin silver prints, and a detailed bibliography,
chronology, exhibition list, and index are included. The book is a feast
for lovers of theatrical photography, and for students and practitioners
of what Model called “the art of the split second.”


Thomas, Ann., “Lisette Model,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 21, 2024,