Erich Lessing

Austrian, b. 1923

Born in Vienna, Erich Lessing was the son of a dentist and a concert pianist. In 1939, before Lessing finished high school, Hitler's occupation of Austria forced him to emigrate to Israel (then British Mandate Palestine). His mother remained in Vienna and died in Auschwitz. Lessing studied at Haifa's Technical College, before working on a kibbutz; after his time as a soldier he also drove a taxi for a living.

During the Second World War, Lessing served in the British Army as an aviator and photographer. He returned to Vienna in 1947. He worked as a reporter and photographer for the Associated Press and was invited to join Magnum by David 'Chim' Seymour, one of the agency's founders. He became a full member of Magnum in 1955. Lessing covered political events in North Africa and Europe, and reported on the onset of the Communist period in Eastern Europe for Life, Epoca, Picture Post and Paris-Match. His pictures of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution serve as a record of the hope and euphoria of the first days of the revolt, so soon to be followed by the pain and punishment of its brutal suppression.

Lessing later became disillusioned with photojournalism as an agent for change. From the mid-1950s he turned to art, science and historical subjects. He specialized in large-format color photography, publishing more than forty books and establishing himself worldwide as a photographer of culture.

Having taught photography in Arles, at the Venice Biennale, in Ahmedabad in India as a UNIDO expert, at the Salzburg summer Academy and at the Academy of Applied Art in Vienna, Lessing has been honored with numerous awards. He is a member of UNESCO's International Commission of Museums, and CIDOC, its information branch. He lives in Vienna.


Technical College, Haifa, Israel


1997       Grosser Österreichischer Staatspreis, Austria
1992       Vienna’s silver medal, for outstanding services to the city, Austria
1992       Imre Nagy medal, bestowed by the President of the Hungarian republic for his work
              during the Hungarian revolution 1956, Hungary
1976       Culture-Award of the city of Vienna, Austria
1970       Austrian Karl Renner prize for outstanding cultural achievements, Austria
1966       Prix Nadar (for the book L'Odyssée), France
1956       American Art Editors’ Award, USA


2008       Erich Lessing: Unterwegs, Künstlerhaus, Vienna, Austria
2008       Herbert von Karajan, Leica Galerie, Salzburg, Austria; Leopold Museum,
              Vienna, Austria; Museum Moderner Kunst, Passau, Germany, Leica Gallery,
              New York, USA; Leica Ginza Salon, Tokyo, Japan
2008       Vintages, Galerie Fotohof, Salzburg, Austria
2007       Arresting Time, Base sous marine, Bordeaux, France
2007       Europe 50 years agom, Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs,
              Vienna, Austria; National Library, Tallinn, Estonia
2007       Reportage-Photographien 1948-1973, Galerie Momentum, Vienna, Austria
2006       The Hungarian Revolution in 1956 - Budapest Historical Museum, Budpest, Hungary;
              Vienna Leopold Museum, Vienna, Austria; Nooderlicht Gallery Groningen,
              Netherlands; Leica Gallery New York, USA; Prudential Center, Boston, USA; 
              University of Southern California, USA; Mairie du Xe arrondissement, 
              Paris, France; Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia
2005       Free ! Liberation and Sovereignty Austria 1945-1955 - Hoover Institution, Stanford
              University, Ca, USA
2005       Von der Befreiung zur Freiheit - Schwarzenberg Kazerne, Salzburg/Wals Austria
2003       People Known and Unknown - Photofusion Gallery, London, UK
2003       Arresting Time - Dimbola Lodge Museum, Isle of Wight, UK
2003       Photographien der 50er Jahre - Museum Modern Kunst, Passau, Germany
2002       Erich Lessing Photography - Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria;
              Circulo de bella artes, Madrid, Spain
2000       Erich Lessing : 50 anni di fotografia - Bologna, Italy
1999       Erich Lessing - School of Art Gallery and Museum, University of Wales, Aberystwyth,


2009       Joseph Haydn und seine Zeit in Bildern, Lesethek Verlag, Austria; Verlag der
              Metamorphosen, Austria; Joseph Haydn - His time told in pictures, Verlag der
              Metamorphosen, Austria
2008       Herbert von Karajan, Böhlau Verlag, Austria; Verlag der Metamorphosen,
              Austria; Biro Éditeur, France
2006       Revolution in Hungary, The 1956 Budapest Uprising, Thames & Hudson, USA;
              (Budapest 1956 : La Révolution), Adam Biro, France
2005       From Liberation to Liberty, An Austrian Photo Album 1945-1960
              (Von der Befreiung zur Freiheit, ein Photoalbum 1945-1960), Verlag der
              Metamorphosen, Austria
2005       Arresting Time, Photography 1948 – 1973, The Quantuck Lane Press, USA
2002/03  Vom Festhalten der Zeit: Reportage-Fotografie 1948-1973, Christian Brandstätter,
              Austria;(Mémoire du temps : Photographies de reportage 1948-1973), Hazan, France
1998       The Gods of Ancient Egypt, George Braziller, USA
1997       Florence and the Renaissance, Stewart, Tabori, & Chang, USA
1996       Dieux de l'Egypte, Imprimerie Nationale, France
1995       Pompei, Terrail, France; (Pompeji), Komet, Germany
1994       Femmes, Mythologies, Imprimerie Nationale; (Frauen, Mythologie) Metamorphosis,
1994/95  Erich Lessing: Photographie: Die Erste 50 Jahre (Fifty years of Photography),
 Eigenverlag der Museen der Stadt Wien, Austria
1992       Florence La Renaissance, Terrail, France; (Florenz), Terrail, Germany
1990       Geheimnisvolles Ägypten, Bechtermüntz, Germany; (Immortelle Egypte), Nathan,
1987       La Grèce, Payot, France; (Griechenland) Kohlhammer, Germany
1983       Die Italienische Renaissance, Bertelsmann, Germany; (La renaissance italienne)
              Hatier, France
1980       Les Voyages de St Paul, Hatier, France; (Paulus) Herder, Germany;
              (The Travels of St. Paul)  Herder & Herder, USA
1979       Les Celtes, Hatier, France; (Die Kelten) Jugend & Volk, Austria
1975       L'Opéra de Paris, Hatier, France 
1971       Der Mann aus Galiläa, Herder, Germany
1969       Deutsche Reise, Herder, Germany
1967       Discoverers of Space, Herder & Herder, USA
1966       Die Anche Noah, Molden, Austria; (The Story of Noah) Time & Life, USA
1965/66  Die Odyssee, Herder, Germany; (The voyages of Ulysses), Time & Life, USA;
              (L'Odyssée), Hatier, France; (Odyssea), Paoline, Italy; (The Odyssee), McMillan,
1963       Imago Austriae, Herder, Austria
1956       Die Szene, Staatsdruckerei, Austria