While looking for employment in her new city, Model brought her Promenade des Anglais portraits to the photo editor at a newly established, progressive newspaper called PM. He admired her work, publishing nine of the photographs and introducing her to other professionals in the field. By the early 1940s, she was working as a photographer for Harper’s Bazaar, a job she would keep until 1953. (It was no accident that her association with the publication corresponded with the tenure of art director Alexey Brodovitch, who filled its pages with the work of the most visionary photographers of the day.)
On her first assignment for Harper’s Bazaar, Model went back to the beach. This time, her image-hunting ground was not reserved for the wealthy but was, by contrast, the come-one-come-all coastline of Coney Island. There she found a corpulent woman in a black bathing suit and with a beaming expression that radiated confidence and joyfulness. Model captured this woman—who would become immortalized in her photographs as the Coney Island bather—standing in a high crouch and lying on her side with her head propped up on one arm.
The latter position recalls the voluptuous odalisques that sprang from the heated imaginations of 19th- and early-20th-century European male artists and appeared in their Orientalist paintings. Model cropped her prints to fill the frame with the bather’s form, pushing her right up against the edges and consuming the observer’s view.
The exaggerated closeness of her prints, her unusual, tilting perspectives, and her ability to pick out the most expressive characters wherever she went made Model one of the foremost street photographers of the early to mid-20th century. She shot anonymous figures on the teeming streets of Manhattan’s Lower East Side—among her favorite locations—and in dive bars, hotel lobbies, and numerous other public places. Rich and poor alike were subject to her searching eye, which loved wrinkled, disheveled, fleshy, distinct individuality. “The one I photograph is so strong there can almost never be anyone else,” she said.