521 W 21st Street
NEW YORK—The Paula Cooper Gallery is pleased to announce an exhibition of photographs by Lisette Model, on view from 4 May through June 2002. The exhibition includes images from Model’s celebrated Running Legs and Reflections series (1939-45) as well as a selection of portraits of jazz singers, images from the Belmont Race Track and views of New York’s Lower East Side.
Born in Vienna in 1901, Lisette Model was first recognized as an important photographer with “Promenade des Anglais,” a series of images of wealthy Europeans vacationing in the South of France. After emigrating to New York in the late 1930s, Model started photographing views of the city, with an equally sympathetic eye toward the glamorous and the dispossessed. Her Reflections and “unning Legs series, with their dynamic compositions and almost surrealist feel, brought Model to the attention of Harper’s Bazaar art director Alexei Brodovitch, who in turn introduced her to Museum of Modern Art Curator of Photography Beaumont Newhall, thereafter one of Model’s strongest supporters.
While employed at Harper’s Bazaar in the 1940s, Model also exhibited and attended classes at the Photo League, a school, gallery and publication dedicated to photography advocating social reform. Her photographs from that period, most notably images of the recent immigrants to New York’s Lower East Side, manifest a clear documentary bent. Yet, they are significantly different from traditional documentary photography in their lack of an explicit message for social change and in their emphasis instead on the psychological complexity of each human being, irrespective of her/his social status.
In 1949, she completed a photo-essay for Ladies Home Journal on the topic of divorce in Reno. (Nevada was the only state granting divorce in the 1940s.) This series, which Elisabeth Sussman calls “unjustifiably overlooked,” and images of which are included in this show, reveals Model’s sensitivity to the impact social strictures have on individuals and to these same individuals’ resilience.
Model began teaching at the New School for Social Research in the 1950s and continued teaching there until her death in 1983. As her importance as a teacher grew, she progressively became less prolific. The frankness of her photographs, her sympathy for the overlooked or vulnerable, and her privileging of a spontaneous, unaffected photographic style (she once described herself as “a passionate lover of the snapshot”) influenced a generation of photographers, most notably Diane Arbus and Peter Hujar.
Reference: Elisabeth Sussman, Lisette Model, New York: Phaidon Press, 2001, p. 12.