Lisette Model began her creative life as a student of music. Through avant-garde composer Arnold Schönberg, with whom she studied piano, she became exposed to the Expressionist painters of early twentieth-century Vienna. She never formally studied photography but took it up in the 1930s while living in Paris. An early piece of advice received from a colleague--"Never photograph anything you are not passionately interested in"--became her motto.
Model's images can be categorized as "street photography," a style which developed after the invention of the hand-held camera, which made quick, candid shots possible. Through her own complicated personal history, she found intensely empathetic connections with her disparate subjects.
Model eventually settled in New York, where she met with quick success as a commercial photographer for Harper's Bazaar magazine and as an artist with her work exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art. For thirty years she taught photography in New York, where she instructed and befriended Diane Arbus.