Audrey Sands is a doctoral candidate in the History of Art department at Yale University and co-organizer of the Photographic Memory Workshop. She specializes in the history of photography and has held positions in curatorial departments at museums across the country, including MoMA, the National Gallery of Art, and The J. Paul Getty Museum. Audrey holds a BA in Art History from Barnard College and an MA in the History of Art and Visual Culture from the University of Oxford.
Lisette Model and the Inward Turn of Photographic Modernism
My dissertation positions Lisette Model as a pivotal figure in the development of postwar American photography. Model, an Austrian Jew who immigrated to New York via Paris in 1938, became a staple in the American photographic scene, where her mannerist, sardonic street pictures emblematically straddled the political, the personal, and the commercial. The dissertation balances close reading of her photographs with an interrogation of the networks that sustained her—the leftist Photo League, which exhibited her political work; the fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar, which employed her through the 1940s; and the New School for Social Research, where she taught for thirty years.
My dissertation contends that across these areas of her work, against the backdrop of WWII and Cold War America, Model pushed for an art that was subjective in nature. In so doing, she catalyzed an inward turn that pervaded photography of the 1940s-60s—whether expressed as a redirection of the documentary aesthetic to reflect an inner psychology, as in the work of Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, and Model’s student Diane Arbus, or through a rejection of content altogether in favor of formal abstraction, as seen in the later work of Aaron Siskind, Harry Callahan, and Model’s mentor Sid Grossman. In this way, modernist photography shared many parallels with concurrent trends in painting, as Abstract Expressionism too constituted both a formal and political turn inward. The dissertation demonstrates that in photography, as in painting, this new formal and psychological emphasis was a direct response to the postwar and Cold War politics of this period.
With the funding of the Peter Palmquist grant, I was able to travel to make an initial visit to my primary archive, the Lisette Model Fonds at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, where I surveyed the artist's correspondence and teaching notebooks.