Yoon: Exile at Work: The Portrait Photography of Gisèle Freund, Lisette Model, and Lotte Jacobi, 1930-1955
My research examines the emergence of photographic portraiture as a vehicle for illuminating the experience of European exiles and their cultural migrations under the threat of fascism. I argue that exile by fascist regimes prompted certain European photographers to resort to human figuration in order to reconsider the possibilities of historical subjectivity at its moment of crisis. My argument is anchored in the work of three Jewish European women photographers who produced portrait archives while in exile. The German-born Gisèle Freund, the color portraitist of the interwar French cultural luminaries, made a volte-face from the portrayal of the collective subject in the political demonstrations in pre-exile Frankfurt into the individual faces of the French intellectuals after her exile in Paris. The Austrian-born Lisette Model adapted the caricature style that she had developed in Popular Front France to critique the deteriorating conditions and follies of the French leisure Bourgeoisie, and used it to articulate the conditions of the American Lumpenproletariat. And the German- born Lotte Jacobi, a master portraitist of Weimar cultural society, continued to apply her distinctive aesthetic stylization of the human figure, characteristic of Weimar, to her American subjects. Despite different working trajectories and methods, each case centers on an idiom of traditional portraiture that was subject to testing, revision, preservation, and critique. In particular, I contend that their status as strangers granted these exiled artists a double vision that led them to instrumentalize the photographic medium not only to address the aftermath of the European avant-garde—especially the end of its utopian quest to envision political collectives through human figuration—but also to measure and critique the new American mass culture and subjectivity.