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IntroductionMagnum photographer Erich Lessing – from documentarian to poetic storyteller
Erich Lessing made his name as a photo journalist with the Associated Press from 1947. Just three years later, in 1950, he was asked whether he would like to become a member of the renowned Magnum photo agency by David “Chim” Seymour, who founded the organisation together with Robert Capa, George Rodger and Henri Cartier-Bresson. This was a high accolade for a photo journalist at the time, just as it is today. Erich Lessing’s fame soon reached such heights that even politicians such as Konrad Adenauer were happy for him to shoot them. The result was a series of pictures that have become deeply ingrained in our collective image memory. Lessing also became a central part of European remembrance through photographs such as “Berlin stays free,” taken in 1956, which captured the Berlin citizens’ quest for freedom inside the encircled city.
Lessing became famous for his photo journalism of the Hungarian uprising against the Soviet occupation in 1956, unforgettable images for which he was given the American Director’s Award. As a witness, he not only captured the mood in Eastern Europe as the Cold War came to an end, but also covered the major summits of the post war period, in which the foundations for the European Union were laid. His images have been published in important international magazines, including Paris Match, Life, Picture Post, EPOCA, and Quick.
The aim of Lessing’s work at this time was “to document,” and he considered himself a witness rather than a storyteller. His life took an unexpected route to photography, and his personal history might also explain his deep-rooted scepticism. Born in 1923 to a prominent Jewish family in Vienna, in 1939, at the age of just 16, he was forced to flee on a boat to Palestine, via Trieste. His family had to stay behind, and later died in the National Socialist concentration camps. In Palestine Lessing made his way as a radio technician, taxi-driver, and amateur photographer. During the Second World War he worked as a driver for the British Army and, then, became a photographer for them.
In the sixties he began to believe that photography might have the capacity to change things, to change the world, and began to experiment with different themes and formats: Colour photography, shot with a large-format camera, became his career, his culture, his art, and the music of his subjects, finding expression in more than 40 photo books. Like a painter, his attention was drawn to historical sites and structures such as the Roman Forum or the Hagia Sophia, and he used light, colour, and texture to convey the history of these remarkable places.Bio
1923 Born in Vienna, Austria 1939 Moved to Palestine Apprenticeship as Radiotechnician at Technion, Haifa, Israel 1947 Return to Austria Photoreporter Associated Press Since 1951 Member of the photographic corporation MAGNUM, Paris/New York 1973 Appointed to professor by the austrian president Franz Jonas Establishes the professorship for photography at the academy for arts, India Lives in Vienna, AustriaAwards
1997 Big Austrian Stateprize, Austria 1992 Silver Medal of the City Vienna, Austria 1992 Imre Nagy Medal 1976 Viennese Cultureprize, Austria 1970 Dr. Karl Renner Prize, Austria 1966 Prix Nadar for the book Die Odyssee, France 1956 American Art Editors’ Award, USAExhibitions
2011 Erich Lessing: Vintages & Modern Prints, Gallery Makartgasse, Vienna, Austria 2011 Power of pictures, Parliament Vienna, Austria 2011 Erich Lessing :The Making of Sound of Music, Kunstpavillon White Noise, Salzburg, Austria 2011 Erich Lessing: Am Puls der Zeit, Citygallery Klagenfurt , Klagenfurt, Austria 2010 Erich Lessing: CINEMA, Gallery Anika Handelt, Vienna, Austria 2009 Herbert von Karajan, Leica Gallery, New York, USA 2009 Europe: In-Between Document and Fiction, The National Centre of Dance, Bucharest, Romania 2008 Erich Lessing: Unterwegs, Künstlerhaus, Vienna, Austria 2008 Herbert von Karajan: Leica Galerie, Salzburg, Austria 2008 Vintages, Galerie Fotohof, Salzburg, Austria 2007 Arresting Time, Base sous marine, Bordeaux, France 2007 Europe 50 years ago, Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs, Vienna, Austria 2007 Reportage-Photographien 1948 - 1973, Gallery Momentum, Vienna, Austria 2006 The Hungarian Revolution in 1956, Budapest Historical Museum, Budapest, Hungary 2005 Free! Liberation and Sovereignty Austria 1945-1955, Hoover Institution, Stanford University, 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 2000 Erich Lessing: 50 anni di fotografia, Bologna, Italy 1999 Erich Lessing - School of Art Gallery and Museum, University of Wales, Aberystwyth, UK
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