Lisette Model

National Gallery of Canada

By arranging Lisette Model’s photographic output into a series of neat, digestible categories—photoessays, portraits, and subject themes—this retrospective mistakenly encourages us to see her photographic output wholly within the context of the Photo League’s “social documentary” tradition. Model, however, often admitted she didn’t really know the meaning of the term. Using small, lightweight portable 35mm cameras, she experimented with a straight-on “shoot from the gut” snapshot esthetic to produce sardonic exposés of the American dream. Less calculating than her colleagues in the Photo League, her style seems closer in temperament to the paintings of George Grosz than to the photos of Walker Evans. By capturing the human subject in all its garish detail as a social event, devoid of any historic or ideological underpinning, Model jarred the psyche of more than one of her more conservative

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