Biography: Documentary photographer Erich Lessing

Biography: Documentary photographer Erich Lessing


Erich Lessing (born 1923, Vienna, Austria) is an Austrian photographer associated with Magnum Photos.

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.

WEST GERMANY. Rhineland-Westphalia. Ruhrgebiet region. City of Muelheim. Thyssen steel-works. In the background the Rhine river. © Erich Lessing – Magnum Photos

YUGOSLAVIA. Belgrade. March 1955.
Reconciliation between the Soviet Union and Yougoslavia.
From left to right: Soviet Premier Nikita KHRUSCHCHEV, TITO and his wife Jovanka.
The hosts are TITO and his wife Jovanka; the guests, Nikita KHRUSCHCHEV and Anastas MIKOYAN, a member of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party. © Erich Lessing – Magnum Photos

AUSTRIA. Vienna 1975. In his studio. © Erich Lessing – Magnum Photos

GERMANY. West Berlin. 1957. Canadian pianist Glenn GOULD (left) and Austrian conductor Herbert von KARAJAN during a rehearsal with the Berlin Philarmonic Orchestra. © Erich Lessing – Magnum Photos

WEST GERMANY. 1959.
hMay 1st celebrations in East- and West-Berlin. Willy Brandt,mayor of West-Berlin,speaking. In the background the war-damaged “Reichstag”,the former German parliament.Berlin-West,1959 © Erich Lessing – Magnum Photos

The beginning of the deStalinisation period in Hungary favoured the development of an opposition movement, particularly among students and intellectuals. Imre NAGY who was called in as Prime Minister had obtained the demand of Soviet troops being withdrawn. He became submerged by the spread of the insurrectional movement in Budapest and the provinces. Abolishing the ‘unique’ party system on the 13th October 1956 he demanded Hungary’s withdrawal of the Warsaw Pact and neutrality. Armed insurrection started in the streets on 24th October until the Soviet troops occupied Budapest , on the 1st November 1956, and crushed the movement. The uprising brought a deathtoll of over 10 000 people. © Erich Lessing – Magnum Photos

Canary Islands 1954.
The American actor Gregory PECK playing Captain Ahab in John HUSTON’s film “Moby Dick” adapted from the novel by Hermann MELVILLE.
The attack of the White Whale. © Erich Lessing – Magnum Photos

Town of Constantine. DE GAULLE’s first task as head of governement was to defuse the situation in Algeria. In a four-day visit he tried to calm the Algerian population as well as the French “colons”. General DE GAULLE saluting the guard of honour. 1958. © Erich Lessing – Magnum Photos

Poronin near Zakopane.
The Lenin Museum, former pub where the first meeting of the Central Comittee of the Russian Communist Party was held, converted into a museum. LENIN spent a few years in Poronin at the beginning of the century. © Erich Lessing – Magnum Photos

At a “Heurigen”, the traditional Vienna pub which serves new wine. © Erich Lessing – Magnum Photos

The Austrian conductor Herbert von KARAJAN inspecting a new jet trainer built by the Pilatus works near Lucerne. The conductor is a passionate pilot.
SWITZERLAND. Lucerne. 1957. © Erich Lessing – Magnum Photos

HUNGARY: Magyarovar. October. 1956.
Revolutionaries have executed a member of the Communist Secret Police, the “AVO”. © Erich Lessing – Magnum Photos

HUNGARY. Budapest. October-November 1956. Insurrection. Outside of the former central office of ‘Szabad Nép’, crowds try to catch the first edition of ‘Függetlenség’ (Independence). © Erich Lessing – Magnum Photos

© Erich Lessing – Magnum Photos

© Erich Lessing – Magnum Photos

SWITZERLAND. Geneva. The Geneva Summit. July 1955.
Conference des Quatre sur le desarmement.
Geneva 1955 Soviet Prime Minister Nikola• A. BOULGANINE, US President Dwight D. EISENHOWER, French Prime Minister Edgar FAURE and British Prime Minister Sir Anthony EDEN pose for the press in the courtyard of the League of Nations building. © Erich Lessing – Magnum Photos


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