If any of you west coast jetsetters are planning on swooping down onto the Big Apple this next week, there is an exhibition at New York’s Zabriskie Gallery of a photographer whose work is definitely worth checking out.
Born Elise Amelie Felicie Stern in Vienna in 1901, Lisette Model was schooled as a classical musician, but soon after arriving in Paris in 1926 she took to the visual arts, picking up photography. She moved to Manhattan in 1938. Later that year she was hired as a staff photographer for Harper's Bazaar, and began to photograph not only street life, especially the Lower East Side, but also the nightlife of New York City’s cafés and bars. Model, along with Berenice Abbott and Weegee, became the photographers who most captured the ebb and flow of mid-century New York and its anomalous collection of eccentrics, curiosities, elastic cityscapes and culture.
In 1951 Model was swayed by Berenice Abbott to teach at the New School for Social Research in New York. Several of her students would become some of the most prominent photographers of the second half of the 20th century, including Rosalind Solomon, Bruce Weber and her most famous protégé, Diane Arbus. Model would continue to teach until her death in 1983.
Lisette Model was said to be direct yet enigmatic at the same time, inventing her myth and simultaneously denying its existence. She had a knack for intimacy, and even when photographing her most unusual subjects she maintained and revealed their self-owned dignity. Then again, some of her photographs have a harsh, claustrophobic feeling, situated along a dark and troubling and misanthropic edge.