Lessing, Erich 1923-

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Lessing, Erich 1923-


Born July 13, 1923, in Vienna, Austria; son of a dentist and a concert pianist; married (wife is a journalist); children: three.


Home—Vienna, Austria.


Photographer, photojournalist, and educator. Associated Press, photographer, beginning 1947; Magnum Photos, photographer, 1951. Photographer for magazines, including Life, Picture Post, Paris Match, and Quick Magazine. Worked various agricultural jobs in kibbuzim in Israel during World War II. Taught photography in various places throughout the world and at the Venice Biennale, the Salzburg Summer Academy, and at the Academy of Applied Art, Vienna, Austria. Military service: Worked as a photographer with the British Army.


American Art Editors' Award, 1956, for work during the Hungarian Revolution; Prix Nadar, 1966, for Odyssee; Karl Renner Prize, Austria, 1970, for outstanding cultural achievements; awarded title of Professor, Austria, 1973; Culture Award of the City of Vienna, 1976; Silver Medal for outstanding services to the city, Vienna, Austria, 1992; Imre Nagy Medal, Hungary, for work during the Hungarian Revolution; Golden Medal, Styria; Grosser Österreichischer Staatspreis, 1997.


Die Szene, Staatsdruckeri (Austria), 1956.

(Editor, with Otto Schulmeister and Johann Christoph Allmayer-Beck) Imago Austriae, translated by Stella Musulin, Herder (Vienna, Austria), 1963.

Wiener Schatzkammer, Hallwag (Switzerland), 1964.

The Voyages of Ulysses: A Photographic Interpretation of Homer's Classic, Herder (Freiburg, Germany), 1965.

Römisches Erinnerungsbuch. Mit 40 Farbbildern von Erich Lessing und 57 Stichen Von G.B. Piranesi, Herder (Vienna, Austria), 1966, published as Rome Remembered, Herder & Herder (New York, NY), 1968.

Travels of Ulysses, Time-Life (New York, NY), 1966.

Entdecker des Weltraums, Herder (Freiburg, Germany), 1967, published as Discoverers of Space: A Pictorial Narration, translated by John Drury, preface by Archibald MacLeish, introduction by Sir Bernard Lovell, Herder & Herder (New York, NY), 1969.

(And photographer) The Story of Noah, text from the King James Bible, edited by Barbara Brakeley Miller, Time-Life Books (New York, NY), 1968.

Die Wiener Oper, Molden (Austria), 1969.

Deutsche Reise, Herder (Freiburg, Germany), 1969.

Die Bibel, Herder (Freiburg, Germany), 1969.

Ravenna Steine Reden, Herder (Freiburg, Germany), 1970.

Musik in Wien, Molden (Vienna, Austria), 1970.

The Adventures of Ulysses: Homer's Epic in Pictures, Dodd, Mead (New York, NY), 1970.

Jesus: History and Culture of the New Testament, a Pictorial Narration, translated by Stella Musulin, Robert Mahoney, and Angela Zerbe, Herder & Herder (New York, NY), 1971.

(Photographer) The Spanish Riding School of Vienna, translated by Russell Stockman, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1973.

Die Botschaft Jesus, Herder (Freiburg, Germany), 1973.

Traumstrassen durch Deutschland, Molden (Vienna, Austria), 1973.

Die K&K Armee, 1848-1914, Bertelsmann (Munich, Germany), 1974.

Jesus Gottessohn: Begegnung U. Bekenntnis, Herder (Vienna, Austria), 1974, published as Jesus, Son of God: Encounter and Confession of Faith, Franciscan Herald Press (Chicago, IL), 1975.

Brauer Bunte Mauer (title means "Varicolored Wall"), F. Bruckmann (Munich, Germany), 1975.

Traumstrasse Donau, Molden (Munich, Germany), 1975.

L'Opera de Paris, Hatier (France), 1975.

(With Werner Mayer) Deutsche Ritter, Deutsche Burgen, Bertelsmann (Munich, Germany), 1976.

Die Griechischen Sagen, Bertelsmann (Munich, Germany), 1977.

The Bible: A Pictorial History, Mowbrays (London, England), 1977.

Die Kaiserlichen Kriegsvolker: Von Maximilian I. Bis Prinz Eugen 1479-1718, C. Bertelsmann (Munich, Germany), 1978.

Judaica: Die Sammlung Berger: Kult U. Kultur Des Europ. Judentums, Jugend & Volk (Munich, Germany), 1978.

Funde Aus Ephesos Und Samothrake, Kunsthist. Museum (Vienna, Austria), 1978.

Ephesos: Weltstadt D. Antike, Ueberreuter (Heidelberg, Germany), 1978.

Sur Les Routes De France, Arthaud (Paris, France), 1978.

Traumstrassen Durch Frankreich, Molden (Austria), 1978.

Ludwig Van Beethoven, essay by Kurt Dieman, Herder (Vienna, Austria), 1979.

Die Kelten, Jugen & Volk (Austria), 1979.

Sur Les Routes de France, Arthaud (France), 1979.

Hallstatt: Bilder Aus D. Fruhzeit Europas, Jugend & Volk (Munich, Germany), 1980.

(With Ludwig Huttl) Deutsche Schlosser, Deutsche Fursten, C. Bertelsmann (Munich, Germany), 1980.

Jesus, a Pictorial History of the New Testament, Seabury Press (New York, NY), 1980.

Paulus, Herder (Vienna, Austria), 1980.

Hausbibel, Herder (Freiburg, Germany), 1980.

Mozart, Herder (Freiburg, Germany), 1980.

Travels of St. Paul, Herder & Herder (New York, NY), 1980.

Das Heer Unter Dem Doppeladler: Habsburgs Armeen 1718-1848, Bertelsmann (Munich, Germany), 1981.

Joseph Haydn, Herder (Freiburg, Germany), 1981.

Paulus, Der Volkerapostel, essay by Edward Schillebeeck, Herder (Freiburg, Germany), 1982.

Wiener Rathausbuch, Jugend & Volk (Vienna, Austria), 1983.

Die Italienische Renaissance, Bertelsmann (Germany), 1983.

Das Wiener Rathaus, Jugend & Volk (Austria), 1983.

Die Ubungslogen Der Gerechten Und Vollkommenen Loge Zur Wahren Eintracht Im Orient Zu Wien, 1782-1785, Die Grossloge (Vienna, Austria), 1984.

Die Niederlande, Bertelsmann (Germany), 1985.

(Photographer) Joy Ungerleider-Mayerson and Freema Gottlieb, Jewish Folk Art: From Biblical Days to Modern Times, Summit Books (New York, NY), 1986.

Der Wiener Musikverein, Edition Wien (Vienna, Austria), 1987.

Griechenland, Kohlhammer (Germany), 1987.

Die Geschichte Frankreichs: Geschrieben Von Franz Herre Und in Bildern Erzahlt Von Erich Lessing, C. Bertelsmann (Munich, Germany), 1989.

(Photographer) Edles Porzellan: Rund Ums Zwiebelmuster, Falken (Niedernhausen), 1989.

Geheimnisvolles Agypten, Bechtermuntz (Germany), 1990.

The Celts, Bompiana (Italy), 1991.

La Gloire De Venise, Terrail (Paris, France), 1993.

(Photographer) Florence and the Renaissance: The Quattrocento, text by Alain J. Lemaitre, Terrail (Paris, France), 1993.

(Photographer) Barry Bergdoll, Karl Friedrich Schinkel: An Architecture for Prussia, Rizzoli (New York, NY), 1994.

(With Philippe Sollers) Femmes Mythologies, Impr. nationale (Paris, France), 1994.

Photographie: Die Ersten 50 Jahre, Eigenverlag der Museen der Stadt Wien (Vienna, Austria), 1994.

The Glory of Venice, Terrail (Paris, France), 1995.

Erich Lessing: Fifty Years of Photography, Austrian Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Vienna, Austria), 1995.

Pompei, Terrail (France), 1995.

Das Heilige Land, Orbis (Germany), 1999.

(Photographer) The Gods of Ancient Egypt, text by Pascal Vernus, Braziller (New York, NY), 1999.

Ruckblende, Wieser (Austria), 2000.

Dieu en ses Anges, Cerf (Frankreich), 2000.

(Photographer) Adele Geras, Troy, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2000.

Vom Festhalten der Zeit, Brandstatter (Austria), 2002.

Au Louvre: Les Arts Face A Face, Musee du Louvre (Paris, France), 2003.

Photographies de Reportate 1948-1973, Hazan (France), 2003.

Le sacre de Napoleon, Louvre (Paris, France), 2004.

Le Louvre en 101 Peintures, Louvre (Paris, France), 2005.

Arresting Time: Photography 1948-1973, Quantuck Lane Press (New York, NY), 2005.

From Liberation to Liberty, Verlag der Matamorphosen (Austria), 2005.

(Photographer) 1001 Paintings of the Louvre: From Antiquity to the Nineteenth Century, edited by Vincent Pomarede and Delphine Trebose, Independent Publications Group, 2006.

(Photographer) Revolution in Hungary: The 1956 Budapest Uprising, essays by George Konrad, Thames & Hudson (New York, NY), 2006.

(Photographer) Naissance de la Figure: L'art du Paleolithique, text by Jean-Paul Demoule, Hazan (Paris, France), 2007.


Erich Lessing is a prolific Austrian photojournalist, photographer, and educator whose work spans a period from the middle 1950s to the early years of the twenty-first century. His photographs, collected in dozens of volumes, chronicle in pictures many important cultural, artistic, and political subjects from around the world. Lessing worked for the Associated Press in 1947, and joined the prominent photographic agency Magnum Photos in 1951. He served as a photographer for the pioneering magazine Life, which presented a great deal of photojournalism and published many photographic essays in the days when news was a desired commodity and television was not ubiquitous.

Born in Vienna in 1923, Lessing was forced to flee Austria for Israel in 1939 when Hitler's forces occupied the country. His mother, assuming herself to be safe, remained behind in Vienna; she later died at Auschwitz, noted a biographer on the Erich Lessing Culture and Fine Arts Archive Web site. After spending time working on a number of Israeli kibbuzim, Lessing rekindled a childhood interest in photography and began pursuing it as a vocation. Early on, he became a kindergarten photographer, and later worked as a photographer for the British Army, noted the Web site biographer. Throughout most of the 1950s, he covered journalistic topics for important magazines such as Life and Paris Match. Later, in the 1960s, his interests drew him to history and the photographic documentation of historical personalities and events. His photographs appeared as illustrations in a number of literary works and Greek myths, and also provided context and background for two volumes of the Old Testament.

In Florence and the Renaissance: The Quattrocento, with text by Alain J. Lemaitre, Lessing was specially commissioned to provide the photographs to document the breadth of the diverse artwork created in Florence, Italy, during the anniversary of the Renaissance period, during which art, literature, culture, and thought flourished throughout Italy and Europe. Lessing includes pictures of works by iconic notables such as Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, and Fran Angelico, arranged to complement detailed analysis and commentary by author Lemaitre. "Lessing's photographs here give a choice view of these works often supplemented by welcome details," remarked a Publishers Weekly contributor.

Lessing contributes photographs to The Gods of Ancient Egypt, written by Pascal Vernus, a director of studies at France's Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes and former fellow of the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology in Cairo. In the book, Vernus introduces readers to the depth and complexity of religious thought and practice in ancient Egypt, assisted by the clarity of Lessing's photographs.

1001 Paintings of the Louvre: From Antiquity to the Nineteenth Century, edited by Vincent Pomarede and Delphine Trebose, documents more than 1,000 paintings, drawings, and other illustrations held in the formidable collections of the Louvre, in Paris. In tandem with scholarly essays, Lessing's photographs cover materials such as traditional paintings as well as illuminated manuscripts, Roman frescoes, inscribed papyri, and painted vases. The materials illustrated by Lessing originate in many different parts of the world, from the Orient to the Islamic world, Greece and Rome, and various countries throughout Europe. Many of the painted objects are quite rare and are not often seen by the viewing public. Library Journal reviewer Paula Frosch remarked that Lessing's "excellent photographs are reproduced in sumptuous color," resulting in a "visual and intellectual feast." Frosch described the book's overall effect as "similar to a week spent probing" the Louvre's vast collections in the presence of knowledgeable docents who are thoroughly versed in the history of the objects they present.

One of Lessing's most poignant and influential works of photography is Revolution in Hungary: The 1956 Budapest Uprising, with essays by George Konrad and other contributors. Lessing was present in 1956 and recorded the events that occurred when tired and frustrated Hungarians rose up in rebellion against the Soviets who ruled over them. Some fifty years later, Lessing's photographs of the revolution "remain a testament to Europe's struggle for unity and freedom," commented Michael Elliott in Time International. "His photographs display the chronology of emotions," commented Christina Erb in the Globalist. "He captures the revolution's early moments of hope and exhilaration—and also documents its crushing end." Along the way, he documents the small moments and tragedies that marked the revolution's violent suppression by Soviet military forces. In one crisp black-and-white photograph, a soldier lies dead, sprawled in the street and covered with debris. In another, a man and woman gather books from a destroyed building. In yet another, a small boy struggles to carry a piece of firewood, almost as large as he. Lessing presents portraits of some of the major figures of the revolution, including the doomed Hungarian prime minister Imre Nagy. "These expressive human portraits become more sparse as the revolution begins and Lessing starts to capture the emotions and violence of the moment. The images come at you quickly, hitting you like bullets," Erb remarked. Ray Olson, writing in Booklist, called the book "an extraordinary document."



Booklist, November 15, 2006, Ray Olson, review of Revolution in Hungary: The 1956 Budapest Uprising, p. 21.

Childhood Education, summer, 2003, review of Troy, p. 245.

Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, November, 1995, J.I. Miller, review of Florence and the Renaissance: The Quattrocento, p. 453; November, 2006, M.K. Benne, review of 1001 Paintings of the Louvre: From Antiquity to the Nineteenth Century, p. 471; August, 2007, M. Greenwald, review of Revolution in Hungary, p. 2157.

Library Journal, August, 1995, Robert Cahn, review of Florence and the Renaissance, p. 72; January, 1999, Edward K. Werner, review of The Gods of Ancient Egypt, p. 121; September 15, 2006, Paula Frosch, review of 1001 Paintings of the Louvre, p. 57.

Publishers Weekly, July 24, 1995, review of Florence and the Renaissance, p. 59.

Time International, October 30, 2006, Michael Elliott, "Remembering Those Who Came Before," profile of Erich Lessing, p. 36.


Erich Lessing Culture and Fine Arts Archive,http://www.lessing-photo.com (January 8, 2008), biography of Erich Lessing.

Globalist,http://www.theglobalist.com/ (January 8, 2008), Christina Erb, review of Revolution in Hungary.

Internet Movie Database,http://www.imdb.com/ (January 8, 2008), filmography of Erich Lessing.

[Sketch reviewed by Sabine Lederbauer.]

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