Spread out diagonally and filling the entire frame, Model’s subject poses like a pinup model, seizing the viewer’s attention. Equipped with a Rolleiflex, one of a newer generation of handheld, portable cameras that revolutionized how photographers captured the dynamic flux of modern urban life, Model candidly portrayed the idiosyncrasies of the people she encountered. Her work is distinguished by its emphasis on everyday situations and its raw, unapologetic gaze at its human subjects. Like other American street photographers of her time, including Walker Evans, Helen Levitt, and Ben Shahn, she was attracted to New York’s working-class immigrant neighborhoods, such as Manhattan’s Lower East Side and Coney Island in Brooklyn.
Model came into prominence in the 1940s after immigrating to New York from France, where she had lived for a few years after leaving her native Austria. Alexey Brodovitch, the visionary art director of Harper’s Bazaar, gave Model her first American magazine assignment, and the resulting, now-iconic images of beachgoers at Coney Island—including a variant of this image—were first published in July 1941. Through her photography and her decades of teaching at The New School in Manhattan, she was a powerful influence on a younger, postwar group of photographers, including Diane Arbus, Larry Fink, and Rosalind Fox Solomon, who also took the human figure as their subject.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)