LISETTE MODEL: Learn From the Masters of Photography

LISETTE MODEL: a genius photographer who has influenced so much of photography.

How Lisette Model innovated in photography

Lisette Model in action, with her external flash, and film medium format TLR camera.

First of all, she was the teacher of DIANE ARBUS, who also influenced a lot of photography.

Model, photographed by Irene Fay Photo: Portrait by Irene fay, via Barry Singer Gallery
Portrait of Lisette Model. Lisette was apparently pretty short, yet her intensity was captivating to her students, like that of her most famous student Diane Arbus, photographed by Irene Fay Photo: Portrait by Irene fay, via Barry Singer Gallery

Lisette Model has also innovated the field of photography with her camera work: shooting dynamic, edgy, low angle, flash, up close shots. Her work has apparently influenced BRUCE GILDEN a lot, apparent in his low angle, flash, 28mm work.

Also, I love Lisette Model’s work because (in her words) the photos “**hit you in the stomach.” To me, Lisette Model’s photos are edgy, interesting, full of anxiety, tension. In other words, her photos are NOT boring (the only cardinal sin of a photographer).

Who was she influenced by? Alexey Brodovitch and Beaumont Newhall.

Shooting without judgement?

Lisette Model said that she observed her subjects, without judging them.

I would say, her photos are obviously a reflection of her interest in individuals at the outskirts of society. If anything, I see criticism of the rich and fancy in her photos, but love and empathy in the “freaks” she photographed.

Lesson: Photograph your “superiors” like your “inferiors”, and shoot your “inferiors” like your “superiors.”

Reveal the outer world and the inner-world

In this essay on Diane Arbus, Lisette Model told her students to use photography and the camera as a tool to explore the outer world, and the inner-world and inner-emotions and soul of the photographer.

Lesson: explore the world around you with your camera. But more importantly: use the camera as a tool to explore YOUR OWN SOUL.

“Beautiful” is boring.

The image that inspired Diane Arbus. Photo by Lisette Model

“When I was painting in Paris, we drew from the models. And you cannot imagine how fantastically boring it can be to look hour after hour at a beautiful body. But an ugly body can be fascinating.” – Lisette Model

To me, I agree with Lisette Model. To photograph traditionally “beautiful” people (like fashion photos of the skinny) is a bit boring. They all look the same.

Lisette Model tried to shoot fashion, but perhaps found it boring. Instead, she photographed “Normal” people out in the streets and public spaces.

Don’t judge yourself; just photograph.

There is a story of Lisette Model out with Diane Arbus in a field trip. Here is the excerpt:

Early in the course, on a field trip, Lisette saw that Diane, very pale, would lift the camera to her eye and then lower it. She was following Lisette’s instructions to click the shutter only when she saw something that excited her. In the face of what she found, she faltered.

“I can’t photograph,” she said.

“Why not?” Lisette asked.

“Because what I photograph is evil.”

“Evil or not,” Lisette replied, “if you don’t photograph this you’ll never photograph in your life.”

Lisette believed that over the next few months she helped Diane conquer her inhibitions. “You had to reach her where the deepest anxiety lay—that it was evil,” she said. “And I pushed it out. One hundred percent consciously. It was my business as a teacher to get it out.”

The moral of the story: don’t censor yourself when shooting. Only shoot what excites or interests you.

Learn more about Lisette Model

PDF Biography in Lisette Model

Photos by Lisette Model

My favorite shots of hers:

Notes on style and darkroom manipulation

From her Wikipedia Biography:


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