Through The Looking Glass

©Jean B. Bubley

©Jean B. Bubley

Screen Shot 2013-10-22 at 2.54.48 PM

©Lisette Model Foundation




Esther Bubley was an American photographer, most well known for her noir style photographs of everyday life. She grew up in a Jewish family in Wisconsin with four siblings. Bubley was a photojournalist who was captivated by ordinary people and used photography to tell her story as well as the stories of her subjects.

Esther photographed her share of celebrities – Albert Einstein, Sherry Lewis, and Bennie Goodman – but she really preferred photographing ordinary people. Those were her favorite subjects. You can see this fascination in her work early on. In 1943, for example, when she covered the Memorial Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, she photographed the spectators almost as much as she photographed the dignitaries.” (

Bubley was able to capture candid moments due to her humble and reserved personality. In June of 1941, when Esther began her work as a photojournalist and documentary photographer, she had trouble finding work. People were not eager to hire a female photographer until 1942 when the United States had entered World War II and the majority of men were over seas. Esther’s first official job as a photographer was at the Office of War Information, OWI, at the age of 21 years old.

When the war ended, most women left their jobs and returned back to the home. Esther was not concerned with the influx of male competition and continued to uphold her spot at the top of a predominately male field.

©Jean B. Bubley

©Jean B. Bubley

In 1954 in her New York apartment Esther captured a famous self-portrait. In the photo she is looking in the mirror and the viewer can see both the front of her face and a profile view. Due to the reflection she is leaning towards and away from the viewer. The photograph captures a noir ambiance, specifically the scratches on the mirror and the smoke in the background. It is hard to tell where Bubley is and where the viewer is in relation to her. The light is shining in from behind her making her stand out even more. This photo is iconic because it captures the photographer herself in her own home, but has inherent elements of mystery and enticement. Bubley is indirectly looking straight at her audience and allowing viewers into her home.

Lisette Model was born in Vienna in 1901 to a Jewish Family. Her family was wealthy and owned land in Vienna and Italy. She was exposed to many facets of European culture as a young girl due to her families wealth and travel opportunities. During World War I she had to move back to France with her mother due to her families loss of money. After years of piano and singing lessons, Model turned to photography in 1933. Her goal was to use photography as a mean of income and be a dark room specialist.

After visiting New York for the first time with her husband in October of 1938, Model and her husband decided to start a new life in the states. Photography was a transportable profession however it took Model two years to have her work published in the United States. Model started two projects around 1939 titled Reflections and Running Legs. The streets of New York inspired these series of photographs, “Both the layered, photomontage-like images of store windows and their reflections, and the graphically conceived views of legs walking the streets…” (Sussman pg 4).

Screen Shot 2013-10-22 at 2.54.48 PM

©Lisette Model Foundation

One specific reflection image Model took on Delancey Street, New York in the 1940’s is particularly iconic. Model captured an image of a window, which shows the reflection of two men, several buildings and a tree. The viewer can see inside the window and make out a bar with a glass of water. The photo is especially interesting because the numerous recognizable figures with in the photo are on top of each other, due to the reflection. Both of the men are well dressed and wearing a tie and hat. The man in the foreground has a puzzled expression on his mouth however his eyes are shadowed by his cap. The man in the background is much less clear and smaller due to the angle that Model took the photograph. The photo displaces the viewers sense of reality because it is unclear who is inside and who is outside and there seems to be a tree growing out of a building.

The two photographs portray reflections of modern people in New York in the 1940’s and 50’s. Both pictures play with dimension and leave the viewer with room to use their imagination. Model’s photograph captures two men on the street of New York either inside or outside of a restaurant. It is not obvious where the men are in relation to each other and to the buildings and trees around them. Model was able to capture the whole scene using the angle against the window. Bubley on the other hand captured a self-portrait in her own home. Similarly to the man in the restaurant window her lips are pressed together and her emotion is not obvious. She looks serious but also relaxed. Due to the reflection, the smoke and the bright light it is hard to determine where exactly the photo was taken. Both of these photographs are mysterious because the viewer is looking at an instance through a reflection. These photos are iconic to the Post War time period because photographers could finally focus on people in their daily lives as apposed to capturing violence and death. These photos evoke different emotions and questions depending on who is looking at it. Bubley and Model used reflections to create a more detailed and complex visual of a specific moment.

The following video clips discuss Lisette Model’s personal history and photographic work.



Anderson, S.M. “Esther Bubley: A Life in Photography.” Esther Bubley: A Life in Photography. N.p., Aug. 2008. Web. 20 Oct. 2013. <>.

Bubley, Jean. “Introduction.” Esther Bubley, Photojournalist: Biographical Sketch. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2013.

Elizabeth Sussman, Lisette Model (Phaidon 55, 2001)

“Lisette Model (Getty Museum).” Lisette Model (Getty Museum). N.p., n.d. Web. 20  Oct. 2013.


“Lisette Model: Photographer and Teacher.” N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Oct. 2013.            <>.

Paula Rabinowitz, “Already Framed: Esther Bubley Invents Noir,” in Black & White & Noir (2002), 25-59 16 Oct. 2013.

“The Photographers: Esther Bubley.” The Photographers: Esther Bubley. N.p., 18 July
1998. Web. 21 Oct. 2013. <>.

“What Is Film Noir?” What Is Film Noir? N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Oct. 2013 <>.


Esther Bubley – A Life in Photography:


Lisette Model au Jeu de paume (1/2):


Lisette Model au Jeu de paume (2/2):