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Lisette Model

  • Lisette Model was an Austrian-born photographer who lived in New York with her husband Evsa Model after emigrating from France. Her street photographs capturing the curiosities of everyday life quickly caught the interest of museums and magazines.
  • Given name:
  • Last name:
  • Alternative names:

    Élise Amélie Félicie Stern, Elise Seybert Model

  • Date of Birth:
  • Place of Birth:
    Vienna (AT)
  • Date of Death:
  • Place of Death:
    New York City (US)
  • Profession:
  • Introduction:

    Lisette Model was an Austrian-born photographer who lived in New York with her husband Evsa Model after emigrating from France. Her street photographs capturing the curiosities of everyday life quickly caught the interest of museums and magazines.

    Word Count: 37

  • Signature Image:
    Hermann Landshoff, Die Fotografin Lisette Model, New York 1948 (© bpk / Münchner Stadtmuseum, Sammlung Fotografie / Archiv Landshoff).
  • Content:

    Lisette and Evsa Model arrived in New York from Le Havre in France on 1 October, 1938. Their initial intention was simply to travel, but they decided to emigrate and remain permanently in the metropolis. Applying for a permanent visa, the couple travelled in December 1938 to Cuba for re-entering the U.S. It was a common way and also the émigrés Walter Sanders and Fritz Henle took the passage via Cuba and Mexiko the application of a permanent visa. Trained as a musician and singer, Lisette taught herself photography after her family moved from Vienna to Nice in 1926. In order to hide their Jewish roots, the family had already changed their name from Stern to Seybert. While living in Paris, Lisette made contact with other émigré photographers such as Florence Henri (1893–1982) and Rogi André (1900–1970). She and Florence Henri, with the help of Lisette's sister Olga Model, sought advice on photographing with a Rolleiflex camera. No information is available on whether Olga had already trained in photography in Vienna, or whether she had worked as a professional photographer or what direction her life took. However, on trips from her apartment in Paris to the apartment of her mother in Nice, Lisette encountered street life in the south of France and captured it with her camera. During the 1930s her first series Promenades des Anglais focused on bourgeois life on this famous street on the Côte d’Azur. The photographs were very direct and captured revealing and unexpected moments in everyday street life. Some of the images in Promenades des Anglais were taken the same year she departed for New York. On her arrival in New York in 1938, this series was her entry point to the photographic scene and to a career in the metropolis. During the 1940s it was presented in exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art (see below) and printed in such international magazines as the British Lilliput and the American PM magazines.

    Model set about discovering her new city on foot and, shortly after her arrival to New York, created two series with her Rolleiflex camera. For Window Reflections, she photographed urban shop windows in a modernist aesthetic. The photographs were taken either inside or outside the shop windows and reflected the comings and goings of passers-by as well as the architecture of the skyscrapers and the displays in the shop windows. The result is a multilayered picture in which the window displays and the street scenes reflect and represent the complex urban life that surrounded her. Another émigré, the photographer T. Lux Feininger, was also inspired by window reflections for some of his photographs and drawings.
    This experimental and creative way of seeing, and the urban impressions of New York, can also be seen in Lisette Model's second series, Running Legs. These close-up pictures focus on passers-by but, instead of a full portrait, consist only of running legs. We see high-heeled shoes and the shoes of businessmen as groups and individuals head as fast as possible on their way. The momentum is also captured in the blurred and fuzzy photographic technique. This series of photographs has a cinematographic rhythm and gestures to the anonymous and crowded life of the metropolis, expressing Model’s own anxieties about New York urban life. In this context, it is interesting to remember that Model used a Rolleiflex camera, which was worn hanging in front of the upper body, with the view-finder at the top of the camera. This suggests that Model must have been a very physically agile photographer, well able to cope with all the stooping and bending that was required. Interestingly, some years earlier, the émigré photographer Rudy Burckhardt operated in the same way, using cropped images of passers-by for his New York N. Why album. In 1941 one image of Running Legs was published under the auspices of art director Alexey Brodovitch in Harper’s Bazaar magazine, for which the photographer Hermann Landshoff also worked, and in the same year for U.S. Camera.  In 1948, Landshoff made a portrait series of Lisette Model that includes a photograph in which she wears a miniature camera round her neck. In addition to her Rolleiflex, Model also used this model of camera. It seems likely that the two photographers knew each other through their work at Harper's Bazaar. Model's series of Running Legs was also featured in an article by the art critic Elizabeth McCausland in Minicam magazine in 1941 (McCausland 1941). Other series produced by Lisette Model included one on Coney Island and another on Sammy’s Bowery Follies, a bar on the Lower East Side which was also the subject of a series by the émigré photographer Erika Stone.

    On their arrival in New York in 1938, Lisette Model and her husband, the Russian-born painter Evsa Model, lived at 130 Riverside Drive. The Austrian émigré photographer Lilly Joss Reich also lived in the vicinity. Lisette Model (née as Seybert), as she then was, married the Russian Jewish painter Evsa Model in Paris in 1937 and would spend the rest of her life with him. As in the work of his wife, Evsa's paintings reflected urban life in the metropolis, creating their own visual language: on the one hand, the geometries, architecture and colourfulness of the metropolis; on the other hand, the anonymity of individuals in the big city. In 1943 the couple move to 55 Grove Street in Greenwich Village, an area that during the 1940s was home to many artists and photographers. The photographer Berenice Abbot lived in the borough, as did émigré photographers Rolf Tietgens and T. Lux Feininger, and Valeska Gert’s Beggar Bar was located near the Models' apartment. As early as 1941, Lisette Model had photographed Valeska Gert, the German émigré artist and dancer, and the two women had become friends.

    Other images testify that Lisette and Evsa Model’s apartment at 55 Grove Street, as well as their later apartment at 137 7th Avenue, was designed and painted by them in black, green, red and yellow, after the style of the Russian constructs and Piet Mondrian (Le Pommeré 2019) . From 1958 until Lisette Model’s death in 1968, the couple lived in a basement apartment at 137 7th Avenue. Although it had no daylight, the couple started photographic and painting courses in one of the rooms. Not far from the apartment was the New School for Social Research and from 1951 Lisette Model gave courses on photography there, filling Berenice Abbot’s former position. In her courses on “The Small Camera in Photography today” and “Photographing New York and its People” she shared her knowledge and practical experience with miniature cameras, as well as her knowledge of the urban New York landscape, directly with her students. Other émigrés offering photography and photojournalism courses were Josef Breitenbach, Charles Leirens, Marion Palfi, Kurt Safranski, Alexey Brodovitch and Tim Gidal. The émigrés Fred Stein and Werner Wolff also frequented the New School, working as commission for the Black Star photo agency. The German émigré Erika Stone was a student of Berenice Abbot at the New School.

    During the 1940s and 1950s Lisette Model’s work was shown at several locations in New York. Her first solo show was at the Photo League Gallery in 1941. The Photo League was a cooperation of professional and amateur photographers of which Model was a member. Other émigré photographers who were either members or had dealings with the Photo League included Rudy Burkhardt, Rolf Tietgens, Fred Stein and Hermann Landshoff.
    Lisette Model’s first exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art took place in 1940 and was followed by more than 20 more, until her death in 1968. A retrospective of her work was held in 1983. In 1940, she participated in the Sixty Photographs: A Survey of Camera Esthetics exhibition. Lisette Model’s image was a photograph of a women in Nice, taken in 1938. It was hung next to a photograph by Walker Evans. Among the French photographers taking part were Henri Cartier Bresson and Eugène Atget. American photographers taking part included Alfred Stieglitz, Charles Sheeler, Paul Strand, Ansel Adams , Berenice Abbot, Man Ray, Dorothea Lange, Helen Levit, Edward Steichen and Edward Weston. Other émigré photographers were Ruth Bernhard and László Moholy-Nagy. In 1943 Model took part in the Action Photography exhibition. Besides Model, works by the émigré photographers Andreas Feininger, Hebert Matter, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Thomas Bouchard were also presented. The same year, Model participated in the Portraits exhibition, showing a portrait from her time in France. Two portraits by Lotte Jacobi, of Albert Einstein and Thomas Mann, were also shown in the exhibition. In 1944 three works by Lisette Model were shown at the Art In Progress. 15th Anniversary exhibition. Other émigré photographers represented were Josef Breitenbach, Andreas Feininger and László Moholy-Nagy70 Photographers Look At New York City: from 1853 to 1957 was the title of an exhibition shown in 1957, where five images by Lisette Model were presented alongside works by other émigrés photographers including Robert Frank, Andreas Feininger and Lisa Larsen (née Rothschild).

    Lisette Model’s work was an important contribution to the photographic urban aesthetics of photography during the 1930s and 1940s and gained a high reputation among both émigré and American colleagues. This can also be seen in the fact that she was invited to take part in the “What Is Modern Photography?” symposium at the Museum of Modern Art in 1950. This was part of a panel series launched by the Museum of Modern Art during the 1930s and 1950s. Other subjects covered were: “What Is Modern Architecture?”, “What Is Modern Painting?”, “What Is Modern Sculpture?” and “What Is Modern Design?”.

    Word Count: 1591

  • Media:
    Lisette Model at New School by Joe Covello, 1960s, New School for Research Archive, Photograph Collection, NS.04.01.01:16 (© The New School Archives and Special Collection, The New School, New York, NY).
    Announcement of "The Small Camera In Photography Today" course by Lisette Model. New School Bulletin. Art Classes, vol. 9, no. 2, September 1951, front cover and p. 34 (© New School course catalog collection, NS-05-01-01. The New School Archives).
    Lisette Model's naturalisation papers. New York, Southern District, U.S District Court Naturalization Records, 1824–1946. Petitions for naturalization and petition evidence 1944 box 942, no 490001-490300 > image 702 of 1406; citing NARA microfilm publication M1972 (Family Research. © Southern District of New York Petitions for Naturalization, 1897–1944. Records of District Courts of the United States, 1685–2009, RG 21. National Archives at New York).
    Page with photos of the apartments at 55 Grove Street and 137 7th Avenue, published in Le Pommeré, 2010, pp. 58–59 (Photo: Helene Roth).
  • Bibliography (selected):

    Die Kamera ist grausam. The camera is cruel. Meisterwerke von Lisette Model, Diane Arbus und Nan Goldin, edited by Daniel Jelitzka and Gerald A. Matt, exh. cat. FLATZ Museum, Dornbirn, 2018.

    Displaced Visions. Émigré Photographers of the 20th Century, edited by Nissan N. Perez, exh. cat. The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 2013.

    Dogramaci, Burcu, and Helene Roth. “Fotografie als Mittler im Exil: Fotojournalismus bei Picture Post in London und Fototheorie und -praxis an der New School for Social Research in New York.” Vermittler*innen zwischen den Kulturen, special issue of Zeitschrift für Museum und Bildung, vol. 86–87, 2019, pp. 13–44.

    Dogramaci, Burcu, and Roth Helene Roth, editors. Nomadic Camera. Fotografie, Exil und Migration, special issue of Fotogeschichte. Beiträge zur Geschichte und Ästhetik der Fotografie, vol. 39, no. 151, 2019.

    Gilbert, George. The Illustrated Worldwide Who’s Who of Jews in Photography. G. Gilbert, 1996.

    Krohn, Claus-Dieter, et al., editors. Exilforschung. Ein internationales Jahrbuch, vol. 21: Film und Fotografie. edition text + kritik, 2003.

    Le Pommeré, Marianne. Evsa Model. Peintre Américain. Norma Éditions, 2010.

    Lisette Model. Photographien 1933 - 1983, edited by Reinhold Mißelbeck and Ann Thomas, exh. cat. Museum Ludwig Köln, Cologne, 1992.

    Lisette Model (Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, no. 4). Center for Creative Photography, 1977.

    Lisette Model. Fotografien 1934–1960, edited by Monika Faber and Gerald Matt, exh. cat. Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna, 2000.

    Lisette Model, edited by Sam Stourdzé and Ann Thomas, exh. cat. Galerie Baudoin Lebon, Paris, 2002.

    Lisette Model, edited by Christina Zelich, exh. cat. Fundación Mapfre, Madrid, 2009.

    Lisette Model. A Performance in Photography, edited by George Steeves, exh. cat. Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery, Halifax, 2011.

    Lisette Model. Street Life, edited by Monica Poggi, exh. cat. CAMERA - Centro Italiano per la Fotografia, Turin, 2021.

    McCausland, Elizabeth. "Feet." Minicam Photography, 5, January 1941, pp. 14–17.


    Model, Lisette. „“Pictures as Art. Instructor Defines Creative Photography As Scientific Eye That Captures Life.” The New York Times, 9, December, 1951, p. 143.

    Modern Look. Photography and the American Magazine, edited by Mason Klein, exh. cat. Jewish Museum, New York, 2020.

    New York. Capital of Photography, edited by Max Kozloff, exh. cat. Jewish Museum, New York, 2002.

    New York Photography 1890–1950. Von Stieglitz bis Man Ray, edited by Ortrud Westheider and Michael Philipp, exh. cat Bucerius Kunst Forum, Hamburg, 2012.

    Reframing America: Alexander Alland, Otto Hagel & Hansel Mieth, John Gutmann, Lisette Model, Marion Palfi, Robert Frank, edited by Andrei Codrescu and Terence Pitts, exh. cat. Center for Creative Photography, Tucson, 1995.

    Rosenblum, Naomi. A History of Women Photographers. Abbeville Press, 1994.

    Roth, Helene. “First Pictures: New York through the lens of emigrated European photographers in the 1930s and 1940s.” Contact Zones: Photography, Migration and Cultural Encounters in the United States, edited by Justin Carville and Sigrid Lien, Leuven University Press, 2021, pp. 111–132.

    Schaber, Irme. “Fotografie.” Handbuch der deutschsprachigen Emigration 1933–1945, edited by Claus-Dieter Krohn and Patrick von zur Mühlen, WBG, 1998, pp. 970–983.

    Schaber, Irme. “‘Die Kamera ist ein Instrument der Entdeckung…ʼ. Die Großstadtfotografie der fotografischen Emigration in der NS-Zeit in Paris, London und New York.” Exilforschung. Ein internationales Jahrbuch, vol. 20: Metropolen des Exils, edited by Claus-Dieter Krohn et al., edition text + kritik, 2002, pp. 53–73.

    Sussman, Elisabeth. Lisette Model. Phaidon, 2001.

    Übersee. Flucht und Emigration österreichischer Fotografen 1920–1940, edited by Anna Auer, exh. cat. Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna, 1997.

    Klaus Honnef and Frank Weyers. Und sie haben Deutschland verlassen … müssen. Fotografen und ihre Bilder 1928–1997, exh. cat. Rheinisches Landesmuseum Bonn, Bonn, 1997.

    Werneburg, Brigitte. “LIFE: Leben in der Emigration. Deutsche Fotojournalisten in Amerika.” (unpublished manuscript, 1991). Accessed 15 February 2021.

    Word Count: 581

  • Archives and Sources:

    Word Count: 24

  • Author:
    Helene Roth
  • Exile:

    Paris, France (1926–1938); New York City, US (1938–1983).

  • Known addresses in Metromod cities:

    310 Riverside Drive, Bloomingdale, New York City (residence, 1938–1943); 55 Grove Street, Greenwich Village, New York City(residence, 1943–1958); 137 7th Avenue, Greenwich Village, New York City (residence, 1958–1983).

  • Metropolis:
    New York
  • Helene Roth. "Lisette Model." METROMOD Archive, 2021,, last modified: 27-04-2022.
  • Walter Sanders
    New York

    Walter Sanders was a German émigré photographer. In 1938 he arrived in New York, where he worked from 1939 until the end of his life for the Black Star agency and, from 1944, for Life magazine.

    Word Count: 33

    Josef Breitenbach
    New York

    On arriving in New York in 1941, the German photographer Josef Breitenbach tried to restart as a portrait, street and experimental photographer, as well as a teacher of photo-history and techniques.

    Word Count: 30

    Andreas Feininger
    New York

    Andreas Feininger, was a German émigré photographer who arrived in New York with his wife Wysse Feininger in 1939. He started a lifelong career exploring the city's streets, working as a photojournalist and writing a large number of photography manuals.

    Word Count: 39

    Ruth Bernhard
    New York

    Ruth Bernhard was a German émigré photographer who lived in New York from the 1920s to the 1940s. Beside her series on female nudes, her place in the photography network, as well as in the New York queer scene, is unknown and understudied.

    Word Count: 43

    Alexey Brodovitch
    PhotographerArt DirectorGraphic Designer
    New York

    Alexey Brodovitch was a Belarus-born émigré graphic artist, art director and photographer who, from 1933, worked in New York for Harper’s Bazaar magazine and at the New School for Social Research.

    Word Count: 31

    Rolf Tietgens
    New York

    Rolf Tietgens was a German émigré photographer who arrived in New York in 1938. Although, in the course of his photographic career, his artistic and surrealist images were published and shown at exhibitions, his work, today, is very little known.

    Word Count: 39

    Marion Palfi
    New York

    Marion Palfi was a German émigré photographer who lived in New York from the 1940s to the 1960s. Her photographic engagement in social and political topics made her name for her use of the camera to draw attention to social injustices.

    Word Count: 41

    Tim Gidal
    PhotographerPublisherArt Historian
    New York

    Tim Gidal was a German-Jewish photographer, publisher and art historian emigrating in 1948 emigrated to New York. Besides his teaching career, he worked as a photojournalist and, along with his wife Sonia Gidal, published youth books.

    Word Count: 35

    Ruth Jacobi
    New York

    Ruth Jacobi was a German-speaking, Polish-born photographer who emigrated in 1935 to New York, where she opened a studio together with her sister Lotte Jacobi. She later had her own portrait studio.

    Word Count: 31

    Fritz Henle
    New York

    Fritz Henle was a German Jewish photographer who emigrated in 1936 to New York, where he worked as a photojournalist for various magazines. He also published several photobooks of his travels throughout North America and Asia.

    Word Count: 35

    Carola Gregor
    New York

    The German émigré photographer Carola Gregor was an animal and child photographer and published some of her work in magazines and books. Today her work and life are almost forgotten.

    Word Count: 30

    Rudy Burckhardt
    New York

    Rudy Burckhardt was a Swiss-born photographer, filmmaker and painter who emigrated from Basle to New York City in 1935. He was well networked within the emerging Abstract Expressionist art scene of 1940s' and 50s'.

    Word Count: 33

    T. Lux Feininger
    New York

    Lux T. Feininger was a German-American émigré photographer and painter and the brother of the photographer Andreas Feininger, arriving in 1936 in New York. Although he started taking photographs during the 1920s in Germany, Feininger is better known for his career as a painter and his photographic work is largely unacknowledged.

    Word Count: 50

    Trude Fleischmann
    New York

    Trude Fleischmann was an Austrian-Jewish portrait and dance photographer who emigrated in 1939 to New York, where she opened a studio in Midtown Manhattan with the photographer Frank Elmer.

    Word Count: 28

    New School for Social Research
    Academy/Art SchoolPhoto SchoolUniversity / Higher Education Institute / Research Institute
    New York

    During the 1940s and 1950s emigrated graphic designers and photographers, along with artists and intellectuals, were given the opportunity to held lectures and workshops at the New School for Social Research.

    Word Count: 31

    Beggar Bar
    New York

    Beggar Bar was an artists bar and cabaret which was founded in 1941 by the German actress and dancer Valeska Gert (1892–1978).

    Word Count: 20

    Service Photo Suppliers Inc.
    Photo Supplier
    New York

    Service Photo Suppliers was a photo supplier distributing a wide variety of photo equipment and opened by the German émigré Hans Salomon (1909–?) in 1945.

    Word Count: 23

    Photo Supplier
    New York

    Spiratone was a photo company and photo supplier founded in 1941 by the Austrian émigré family Hans (1888–1944) and Paula Spira (?–?) and their son Fred Spira (1924–2007).

    Word Count: 24

    Hermann Landshoff
    New York

    Besides outdoor fashion shots, Hermann Landshoff was a portrait and street photographer. During his time in New York, he captured the cultural, artistic and intellectual émigré scene as well as his photographer colleagues.

    Word Count: 33

    László Moholy-Nagy
    PhotographerGraphic DesignerPainterSculptor

    László Moholy-Nagy emigrated to London in 1935, where he worked in close contact with the local avantgarde and was commissioned for window display decoration, photo books, advertising and film work.

    Word Count: 30

    Kurt Safranski
    Picture AgentFounding MemberTeacherCartoonistPublisherIllustrator
    New York

    Kurt Safranski was one of the founding members of the Black Star photo agency, a teacher at the New School for Social Research and the author of photojournalistic articles and books.

    Word Count: 31

    Werner Wolff
    New York

    Werner Wolff was forced to leave Germany in 1936 due to his Jewish background and emigrated via Hamburg to New York, where he could follow his career as photographer and photojournalist.

    Word Count: 30

    Erika Stone
    New York

    Erika Stone is a German émigré, who moved to New York with her parents and sister in December 1936, at the age of 12. She went on to carve out a career as photographer.

    Word Count: 32

    Fred Stein
    New York

    Always accompanied by his camera, the German émigré photographer Fred Stein discovered New York City during the 1940s and 1950s. His pictures provide an human and multifaceted view of the metropolis.

    Word Count: 31

    Charles Leirens
    New York

    Charles Leirens was a Belgian-born musician and photographer who emigrated to New York in 1941. While publishing two books on Belgian music, he also gave courses in musicology and photography at the New School for Social Research.

    Word Count: 36

    Lotte Jacobi
    New York

    In October 1935 the German émigré photographer Lotte Jacobi, together with her sister Ruth Jacobi, opened a photo studio on 57th Street. The two sisters had to leave their parents' photo studio in Berlin in the 1930s and emigrated to New York.

    Word Count: 41

    Lilly Joss
    New York

    Lilly Joss was an émigré freelance photographer in New York. She worked for the Black Star photo agency and magazines and was also a portrait and theatre photographer.

    Word Count: 28