Magnum Photos Photographer Profile
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Erich Lessing
Austrian, b. 1923, d. 2018 (Estate)
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 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 photo journalist 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.

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 vividly capture 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 many more. Recent volumes include Von der Befreiung zur Freiheit - Österreich nach 1945 and Anderswo, portraying a world away from the familiar and habitual.

Having taught photography in Arles, at the Venice Biennale, at the Salzburg Summer Academy and at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, Erich Lessing has been honored with numerous international awards such as 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, organized and licensed his photographic collection of more than 40.000 images and works closely with a network of international distribution agents. The collection cover 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 showcased his work.

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

Solo exhibitions:

2015 Lessing presents Lessing, Austrian Cultural Forum, New York, USA
2015 Lessing zeigt Lessing, Jüdisches Museum, Vienna, Austria
2015 Erich Lessing: Magnum Photos, Austrian Cultural Forum, Prague, Czech Republic
2015 Anderswo, foto-forum Galleria, Bolzano, Italy
2013 Erich Lessing: Magnum Photos, Atelier Jungwirth, Graz, Austria
2012 Europa, Europa, Vetrinjski dvor (European Capital of Culture 2012), Maribor, Slovenia
2012 Erich Lessing - Europa nach dem Krieg. Fotografien 1950-1960, Galerie der Stadt, Fellbach, Germany
2011 The Making of the Sound of Music, White Noise Mozartplatz, Salzburg, Austria
2011 Am Puls der Zeit, Stadtgalerie, Klagenfurt, Austria
2010 Cinema, Galerie anika handelt, Vienna, Austria
2009 Erich Lessing: Zorba, Zhivago, Sonrisas, Teatro Sierra de Aracena, Aracena, Huelva, Spain
2009 EUROPE: IN-BETWEEN DOCUMENT and FICTION - Erich Lessing’s photographs on
Post-World War II Europe EXPANDED, The National Centre of Dance, Bucharest, Romania
2009 Herbert von Karajan, Leica Gallery, New York, USA
2008 Erich Lessing: Unterwegs, Künstlerhaus, Vienna, Austria
2008 Remember! Karajan 08, Leica Ginza Salon, Tokyo, Japan
2008 Herbert von Karajan, Museum Moderner Kunst Passau - Stiftung Wörlen, Passau, Germany
2008 Herbert von Karajan, Leopold Museum, Vienna, Austria
2008 Vintages, Galerie Fotohof, Salzburg, Austria
2008 Herbert von Karajan, Leica Galerie, Salzburg, Austria
2007 Photos pour l’Europe (EU Commission), Kultuurikeskuses, Kuressaare, Estonia
2007 Photos pour l’Europe (EU Commission), J. Köleri Fondi näitusesaalis, Viljandi, Estonia
2007 Photos pour l’Europe (EU Commission), Kultuurikeskuses, Haapsalu, Estonia
2007 Photos pour l’Europe (EU Commission), Tartu Ülikooli Ajaloo Muuseumis, Tartu, Estonia
2007 From Liberation to Liberty, University of Redlands, Peppers Art Gallery, Redlands, USA
2007 Photos pour l’Europe (EU Commission), Linnagaleriis, Rakvere, Estonia
2007 Reportage-Photographien 1948-1973, Galerie Momentum, Vienna, Austria
2007 Photos pour l’Europe (EU Commission), Eesti Rahvusraamatukogu (National Library), Tallinn, Estonia
2007 Budapest 1956 - The Hungarian Revolution, Palazzo Ducale, Genoa, Italia
2007 Arresting Time, Galerie-halle, Linz, Austria
2007 Europa vor 50 Jahren, Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs, Vienna, Austria
2007 Budapest 1956, Koszegi Muvészeti Egyesület - Sezessionshaus, Koszeg, Hungary
2007 Mémoire du temps - Arresting Time, Base sous marine, Bordeaux, France
2007 Budapest 1956, Loggia de Mercanti, Milan, Italy
2006 Budapest 1956, Palazzo Marliani-Cicogna, Busto Arisizio, Italy
2006 Budapest 1956, Akademie für angewandte Photographie, Graz, Austria
2006 Budapest 1956, Tartu Ülikool - University of Tartu, Tartu, Estonia
2006 Budapest 1956, Nordico - Museum der Stadt Linz, Linz, Austria
2006 Budapest 1956, Hungarian Cultural Institute, Tallinn, Estonia
2006 Budapest 1956, Slovenské Národné Múzeum, Bratislava, Slovak Republic
2006 Budapest 1956, Pacific Symphony - Orange County Performing Arts Center, Costa Mesa, USA
2006 Budapest 1956, Prudential Center Huntington Arcade, Boston, USA
2006 Budapest 1956, American Hungarian Foundation, New Brunswick, USA
2006 Budapest 1956, Willy-Brandt-Haus, Berlin, Germany
2006 Budapest 1956, Centro Congressi San Martino, Fermo, Italy
2006 Budapest 1956, Neue Galerie Oberhausmuseum, Passau, Germany
2006 Budapest 1956, Leopold Museum, Vienna, Austria
2006 Budapest 1956 - la Révolution, Mairie du 10eme, Paris, France
2006 Budapest 1956, Hungarian Heritage Museum, Cleveland, USA
2006 Budapest 1956, University Hall, Torino, Italy
2006 Budapest 1956, Budapesti Történeti Múzeum, Budapest, Hungary
2006 Budapest 1956, Donauschwäbisches Museum, Ulm, Germany
2006 Budapest 1956, Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford, USA
2006 Budapest 1956, Doheny Memorial Library, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, USA
2006 The 1956 Hungarian Revolution - Fifty Years Later, Leica Gallery, New York, USA
2006 Erich Lessing: Zorba, Zhivago, Sonrisas, Museo Casa de los Tiros, Granada, Spain
2006 Budapest 1956, Meeting in Rimini, Rimini, Italy
2006 Arresting Time, Dimbola Lodge Museum, Isle of Wight, United Kingdom
2006 Arresting Time - 50 Years of Photography, Photomuseum - Palazzo Guarnieri, Feltre, Italy
2006 Budapest 1956, Schloss Ökonomie Gern, Eggenfelden, Germany
2006 The Hungarian Revolution of 1956, Noorderlicht Fotogalerie, Groningen, The Netherlands
2006 Photos pour l’Europe, Commission européenne - Représentation en France, Paris, France
2006 Mémoire du temps, reportage 1948-1973, Musée d'Art moderne de Troyes, Troyes, France
2006 Von der Befreiung zur Freiheit, Waltherhaus, Bolzano, Italy
2005 Arresting Time: Reportage Photography 1948-1973, Leica Gallery, New York, USA
2005 Memoires of Time, Galerie 37 Spaarnestad / Spaarnestad Photo, Haarlem, The Netherlands
2005 Von der Befreiung zur Freiheit, Ursulinenhof, Linz, Austria
2005 Von der Befreiung zur Freiheit, Universität, Klagenfurt, Austria
2005 Von der Befreiung zur Freiheit, Höbarth und Mader Museum, Horn, Austria
2005 Von der Befreiung zur Freiheit, Austrian National Library, Vienna, Austria
2005 Von der Befreiung zur Freiheit, Galerie Ulysses, Vienna, Austria
2005 Free! Liberation and Sovereignty Austria 1945-1955, Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford, USA
2005 Von der Befreiung zur Freiheit, Akademie für angewandte Photographie, Graz, Austria
2005 Von der Befreiung zur Freiheit, Galerie Kärnten, Klagenfurt, Austria
2005 Von der Befreiung zur Freiheit, Universität, Innsbruck, Austria
2005 Von der Befreiung zur Freiheit, Burg Schlaining, Stadtschlaining, Austria
2005 Von der Befreiung zur Freiheit, Schwarzenberg Kaserne, Salzburg, Austria
2005 Von der Befreiung zur Freiheit, Universität, Salzburg, Austria
2003 Ostblock, Museum Moderner Kunst - Stiftung Wörlen, Passau, Germany
2003 People Known & Unknown, Photofusion, London, United Kingdom
2002 50 Jahre Photographie, Palais Harrach, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria
1996 The First 50 Years, Leica Gallery, New York, USA
1994 – 2003 Fifty Years of Photography, worldwide travelling exhibition, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Norway, Finland, The Netherlands, Luxemburg, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Russian Federation, Turkey, Egypt, Israel, Mexico, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Colombia, Uruguay, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, USA
1994 50 Jahre Photographie, Historisches Museum der Stadt Wien, Vienna, Austria


2015 Ungarn 1956, Tyrolia, Austria
2014 Von der Befreiung zur Freiheit - Österreich nach 1945, Tyrolia, Austria
2014 Anderswo, Nimbus. Kunst und Bücher, Switzerland
2012 Louvre - Alle Gemälde, Dumont, Germany
2012 Le Louvre - Toutes les peintures, Flammarion / Éditions du Louvre, France
2011 Louvre - Tutti i dipinti, Electra, Italy
2011 The Louvre - All the paintings, Black Dog & Leventhal, USA
2011 Václav Havel. Fünfzehn Stimmungen, Verlag Thomas Reche, Germany
2010 Menschenbilder aus der Dunkelkammer, Verlag Thomas Reche, Germany
2009 Joseph Haydn und seine Zeit in Bildern, Verlag der Metamorphosen, Austria / Braumüller, Austria
2009 Joseph Haydn - His time told in pictures, Verlag der Metamorphosen, Austria
2008 Herbert von Karajan, Verlag der Metamorphosen, Austria / Böhlau, Austria
2007 Naissance de la figure, Hazan, France
2006 Budapest 1956 - a forradalom, 1956-os Intézet, Hungary
2006 Budapest 1956 - la rivoluzione, Marietti 1820, Italy
2006 Budapest 1956 - la Révolution, Biro Éditeur, France
2006 Revolution in Hungary -The 1956 Budapest Uprising, Thames & Hudson, USA
2006 Budapest 1956 -Die Ungarische Revolution, Brandstätter, Austria
2006 1001 Gemälde des Louvre, 5 Continents Editions, Italy / Michael Imhof Verlag, Germany
2005 1001 peintures du Louvre, 5 Continents Editions, Italy / Èditions du Louvre, France
2005 From Liberation to Liberty, Verlag der Metamorphosen, Austria
2005 Von der Befreiung zur Freiheit, Verlag der Metamorphosen, Austria
2005 Arresting Time - Reportage Photography 1948-1973, The Quantuck Lane Press, USA
2003 Un Certain Louvre, Biro Éditeur, France
2003 Louvre - The Arts Face to Face, Hazan, France
2003 Au Louvre - Les Arts Face à Face, Hazan, France
2003 Mémoire du Temps - Photographies de Reportage 1948-1973, Hazan, France
2002 Vom Festhalten der Zeit - Reportage-Fotografie 1948-1973, Brandstätter, Austria
2001 Pompeji, Komet, Germany
2000 Rückblende - Geschichten aus der Welt vor 1000 Jahren, Wieser, Austria
2000 Dieu en ses Anges, Cerf, France
2000 Das Heilige Land: Landschaften, Archäologie, Religion, Orbis, Germany
1998 Dieux de l'Egypte, Imprimerie nationale, France
1995 Pompéi, Terrail, France
1994 Frauen-Mythologie, Metamorphosis, Germany
1994 Femmes mythologies, Imprimerie nationale, France
1994 Karl Friedrich Schinkel: An Architecture for Prussia, Rizzoli International, USA
1994 Venedig, Glanz und Glorie, Terrail, France
1994 Glory of Venice, Terrail, France
1993 La Gloire de Venise, Terrail, France
1993 Florenz und seine Kunst im 15. Jahrhundert, Terrail, France
1993 Florence and the Renaissance, Terrail, France
1992 Florence et la Renaissance, Terrail, France
1991 Les mythes grecs, Nathan, France
1990 Immortelle Egypte, Nathan, France
1990 Geheimnisvolles Ägypten, Bechtermünz, Germany
1989 Edles Porzellan, Falken, Germany
1989 Die Geschichte Frankreichs, Bertelsmann, Germany
1988 Griechenland, Kohlhammer, Germany
1987 La Grece, Payot, France
1987 Der Wiener Musikverein, J & V Edition Wien, Austria
1987 Die Bibel. Das Alte Testament in Bildern erzählt von Erich Lessing, Bertelsmann, Germany
1985 Die Niederlande, Bertelsmann, Germany
1985 La Renaissance Italienne, Hatier, France
1983 Die Italienische Renaissance, Bertelsmann, Germany
1983 Das Wiener Rathaus, Jugend & Volk, Austria
1982 Die Donau, Ringier, Germany
1982 Paulus - Der Völkerapostel, Herder, Germany
1981 Das Heer unter dem Doppeladler, Bertelsmann, Germany
1981 Joseph Haydn, Herder, Germany
1980 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Herder, Germany
1980 Hausbibel, Herder, Germany
1980 Hallstatt. Bilder aus der Frühzeit Europas, Jugend & Volk, Austria
1980 The Travels of Saint Paul, Herder & Herder, USA
1980 Saint Paul, Becht, The Netherlands
1980 Les voyages de Saint Paul, Hatier, France
1980 Paulus, Herder, Germany
1980 Deutsche Schlösser, Deutsche Fürsten, Bertelsmann, Germany
1979 Ludwig van Beethoven, Herder, Germany
1979 De Kelten, Standaard Uitgeverij, The Netherlands
1979 Die Kelten, Herder, Germany
1979 Judaica, Jugend & Volk, Austria
1978 Les Celts, Hatier, France
1978 Sur Les Routes de France, Arthaud, France
1978 Die kaiserlichen Kriegsvölker, Bertelsmann, Germany
1978 Traumstraßen durch Frankreich, Molden, Austria
1977 Die Griechischen Sagen, Bertelsmann, Germany
1976 Le Message de l‘Espérance, Hatier, France
1976 Gott sprach zu Abraham, Herder, Germany
1976 Deutsche Ritter, Deutsche Burgen, Bertelsmann, Germany
1975 L’Opéra de Paris, Hatier, France
1975 Das Schönste aus der Spanischen Hofreitschule, Molden, Austria
1978 Traumstraße Donau, Molden, Austria
1974 Die K & K Armee, Bertelsmann, Germany
1973 Traumstraßen durch Deutschland, Molden, Austria
1972 De Spaanse rijschool in Wenen, C.A.J. van Dishoeck, Belgium
1972 La Haute Ecole Espagnole de Vienne, Albin Michel, France
1972 The Spanish Riding School of Vienna, Molden, Austria
1972 Die Spanische Hofreitschule zu Wien, Molden, Austria
1971 De man van Nazareth, Becht, The Netherlands
1971 Jesus. History & Culture Of The New Testament, Herder & Herder, USA
1971 Der Mann aus Galiläa, Herder, Germany
1971 Ravenna. Steine reden, Herder, Germany
1970 Musik in Wien, Molden, Austria
1970 The Bible. History and Culture of a People. A Pictorial narration, Herder & Herder, USA
1970 De Avonturen van Odysseus, Becht, The Netherlands
1970 Las Aventuras de Ulises, Herder, Spain
1969 Die Wiener Oper, Molden, Austria
1969 Deutsche Reise. Ein Erinnerungsbuch, Herder, Germany
1969 Verità e poesia della Bibbia, Edizioni Paoline, Italy
1969 Verité et Poésie de la Bible, Hatier, France
1969 Die Bibel. Die Geschichte Israels und seines Glaubens, Herder, Germany
1969 Discoverers of Space, Burns & Oates, United Kingdom / Herder & Herder, USA
1969 Rome Remembered, Burns & Oates, United Kingdom / Herder & Herder, USA
1969 Reminiscenze Romane, Edizioni Paoline, Italy
1969 Odysséen, Allhems Förlag, Schweden
1969 Die Abenteuer des Odysseus, Herder, Deutschland
1968 Berättelsen om Noa, Norstedt & Söners Förlag, Schweden
1968 Het Verhall van Noach, Elsevier, The Netherlands
1968 The Story of Noah, Time Life, USA
1968 Die Arche Noah, Molden, Austria
1967 Entdecker des Weltraums, Herder, Germany
1966 Römisches Erinnerungsbuch, Herder, Germany
1966 De Odyssee, Becht, The Netherlands
1966 The Voyages of Ulysses, MacMillan, United Kingdom
1965 Die Odyssee, Herder, Deutschland
1964 Die Wiener Schatzkammer, Hallwag, Switzerland
1963 Imago Austriae, Herder, Austria
1954 Szene, Verlag der österreichischen Staatsdruckerei, Austria


2014 The Photographer In Front Of The Camera (Der Fotograf vor der Kamera)
A film by Tizza Covi & Rainer Frimmel
A 2014, 75 min, HD, German, English Subtitles, Dolby
Director: Tizza Covi & Rainer Frimmel
Producer: Ralph Wieser
Production Company: Mischief Films
Festivals: Diagonale 2014, Graz, Austria, Jewish Film Festival 2014, Vienna, Austria, Max Ophüls Preis 2015, Saarbrücken, Germany, Bozner Filmtage (Cinema Bolzano) 2015, Bolzano, Italy

2014 Der Photograph im Rückspiegel
A Film by Thomas Hackl
A 2014, 50 min, HD
Director: Thomas Hackl
Producers: Thomas Hackl & Martina Hechenberger
Production Company: Thomas Hackl Film & MinaPictures
Broadcaster: ORF III