Erich Lessing • Photographer Profiles • Magnum Photos

Magnum Pro

Editorial Cultural Commercial Search Image Archive

Welcome to the New Magnum Photos Site

Explore the award-winning storytelling work of Magnum photographers here, or head to Magnum Pro to search and license photos from Magnum’s acclaimed image archive.

CONTINUE TO NEW SITE
SEARCH PHOTO ARCHIVE IN MAGNUM PRO

"I saw my job as providing documentation. I'm certainly not a storyteller in the way that a novelist is a storyteller. Reportage was not the sophisticated thing then that it is today"

- Erich Lessing

b. 1923

Austrian

Based in Vienna, Austria

Contributor

Available for commissions
& assignments

Erich Lessing was born in Vienna in 1923 as the son of a dentist and a concert pianist. His father died of cancer in 1933. Sixteen-year-old Erich Lessing managed to escape to Palestine in 1939, but his mother and grandmother were murdered in Theresienstadt and Auschwitz.

Lessing studied radio engineering at the Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. Working as a taxi driver and a carp breeder in a kibbutz, he eventually found his way back to the hobby of his youth, photography. He started out as a kindergarten and beach photographer before joining the British 6th Airborne Division.

Returning to Austria in 1947, Lessing was hired as a photojournalist for the American news agency Associated Press. In 1951, David ‘Chim’ Seymour invited him to join Magnum Photos, a photographic cooperative with offices in Paris, New York, London, and Tokyo. He became a full member in 1955 and is currently a contributor.

In the course of his career, Erich Lessing covered many significant political and social events. His photographs illustrate the atmosphere of post-war Europe, such as Allied occupation in Vienna, reconstruction in war-damaged Germany, life under communist rule in Eastern Europe, several political summit conferences, Charles de Gaulle’s visit to Algeria in 1958 and the dramatic events of the Hungarian Uprising in 1956.
Erich Lessing’s photographs were published in renowned magazines including LIFE, Paris Match, Epoca, Picture Post, and Quick. Many of his images, such as the photograph showing the presentation of the Austrian State Treaty on the balcony of the Belvedere palace in front of a cheering crowd, have become iconic. Lessing’s portraits of politicians like Dwight D. Eisenhower, Konrad Adenauer or Nikita Khrushchev, and artists like Herbert von Karajan or Oskar Kokoschka won him international acclaim. He took pictures of the actors and crew on the film sets of Moby Dick, Zorba the Greek and The Sound of Music, and continued to capture vividly everyday life and unusual events, such as the Miss Sopot, the first beauty contest to be held in communist Poland.

From the 1960s, Lessing increasingly turned towards art and historical subjects, specializing in large-format colour photography. He photographed thousands of works of art in museums and visited historical sites and places of archeological interest. His work was published in more than sixty art books by international publishers: Szene about the Viennese Burgtheater and Opera, The Voyages of Ulysses in the footsteps of Homer, Imago Austriae, an Austrian history, The Bible as a history of the Jews, The Travels of Saint Paul, Florence and the Renaissance, The Louvre: All the Paintings and much more.

Recent volumes include Von der Befreiung zur Freiheit – Österreich nach 1945 and Anderswo, portraying the world away from the familiar and habitual.

Having taught photography in Arles, at the Venice Biennale, at the Salzburg Summer Academy and the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, Erich Lessing has been honored with numerous international awards. Awards include the Art Directors’ Club Award for his work during the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 and the Prix Nadar for his book The Voyages of Ulysses in 1966.

In 2013, Lessing received the Austrian Cross of Honour for Science and Art, First Class. This award was bestowed by the Republic of Austria in recognition of his lifetime achievements. He is a member of UNESCO’s International Commission of Museums (ICOM).

The Erich Lessing Kunst & Kulturarchiv, his archive and photo agency based in Vienna, organizes and licenses his photographic collection of more than 40.000 images and works closely with a network of international distribution agents. The collection covers a wide range of subjects such as religion and history, landscapes, historical portraits, music, fine art, and archeology. In 2012, Lessing opened a photo gallery in the heart of Vienna, where he showcases his work.

Erich Lessing is married to the Time magazine journalist Traudl Lessing and has three children, four grandchildren, and one great-grandson.

Read More

Selected works

Arts & Culture

Erich Lessing: 50 Years Of Photography

Erich Lessing

Celebrating 50 years of the vast ranging and captivating work of Austrian photographer Erich Lessing

Open story

From the Magnum Shop

Most Recent

Newsroom

The Hungarian Revolution

Erich Lessing

Past Square Print Sale

Closer

Magnum Photographers
Jun 5 - 9

Theme | 31 Stories

Classic Magnum

Past Exhibition
Brescia, Italy

Magnum’s First/Magnum: La première fois

Magnum Photographers
Until Jun 11

Past Exhibition
Torino, Italy

L’Italia di Magnum

Magnum Photographers
Until May 21

Past Exhibition
London, United Kingdom

David Hurn’s Swaps

Magnum Photographers
Until May 21

Past Exhibition
Sao Paulo, Brazil

Magnum on Set in Sao Paulo

Magnum Photographers
Until Mar 26

Theme | 19 Stories

Migration and Refuge

Past Exhibition
London, United Kingdom

I Welcome: an Amnesty International & Magnum Photos exhibition

Magnum Photographers
Until Dec 18, 2016

Past Square Print Sale

Conditions of the Heart: on Empathy and Connection in Photography

Magnum Photographers
Oct 31 - Nov 4

Past Exhibition
Vienna, Austria

Hungary 56: Pictures of a Revolution

Magnum Photographers
Until Nov 11, 2016

Theme | 8 Stories

On Photojournalism: Going Behind the Story

Past Exhibition
Lucca, Italy

Magnum on Set Exhibition

Magnum Photographers
Until Nov 13, 2016

Past Exhibition
Eschborn, Germany

Magnum Contact Sheets

Magnum Photographers
Until Aug 19, 2016

Past Exhibition
Stuttgart, Germany

Odyssey Europe

Magnum Photographers
Until Jul 9, 2016

Newsroom

From Liberation to Liberty

Erich Lessing

Past Square Print Sale

The (More or Less) Decisive Moments

Magnum Photographers
Jun 6 - 11

Past Exhibition
Monschau, Germany

Magnum’s First

Magnum Photographers
Until Oct 3, 2016

Past Square Print Sale
Online Only,

Up Close & Personal

Magnum Photographers
Nov 9 - 13