Lessing, Erich

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Austrian photographer.

From the description of Erich Lessing photographs, 1945-1998. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 123464341

Biographical note

Erich Lessing was born in Vienna July 13, 1923, the son of a dentist and a concert pianist. Hitler's occupation of Austria in 1939 forced his emigration to Israel (then still the British Mandate Palestine), leaving behind his mother in Vienna, who eventually perished at Auschwitz. In Israel, Lessing worked on several kibbutzim, and returned to photography, a childhood hobby, working as a kindergarten photographer and later as photographer with the British Army.

In 1947 he returned to Austria, worked as a photographer for the Associated Press and, in 1951, joined Magnum Photos, the world-famous photographer's cooperative. Working chiefly for LIFE, Paris Match, Picture Post, EPOCA and Quick Magazine, he documented political events in post-war Europe, particularly in the former Communist countries. He covered the Hungarian Revolution, several summit meetings and President Charles de Gaulle's visit to Algeria.

After 1960 his focus shifted towards history in an attempt to bring historical personalities and epochs alive in what he called photographic "evocations." These evocations included the lives and times of great musicians, poets, physicists and astronomers. Erich Lessing's more than 40 books include works on the history of Austria, the travels of Ulysses, two different volumes on the Old Testament, the Italian Renaissance, the history of the Low Countries, the Travels of Saint Paul, the Greek Myths, two books on Art and Religion in Ancient Egypt, a History of France and many more.

Erich Lessing has taught photography in Arles, at the Venice Biennale, in Ahmedabad in India as a UNIDO-expert, at the Salzburg summer Academy and at the Academy of Applied Art in Vienna. He has been the recipient of many prizes over the course of his career, including the Imre Nagy-medal, bestowed by the President of the Hungarian republic for his work during the Hungarian revolution.

Erich Lessing lives in Vienna. He is married to a journalist, has three children and five grandchildren.

[Adapted from the biography available on the Lessing Photo Archive website, http://www.lessing-photo.com/biopers.asp ]

Historical note

Soon after the end of World War II, the Soviet Union seized power in the recently defeated countries of Eastern Europe and instituted Communist rule. On October 23, 1956, thousands of Hungarians in Budapest took to the streets to demand political reform and an end to the occupation. After a few brief skirmishes with protesters, which included students, factory workers, and Hungarian soldiers, the Soviets withdrew across the border. Jubilant citizens took to the streets celebrating their newly found freedom. However, the Soviets counterattacked shortly thereafter, crushing this nascent revolution and forcing nearly 250,000 people to flee the country. Austrian photojournalist Erich Lessing documented the dramatic events leading up to, during, and after the conflict with images that show both a people's desperate fight for freedom and the stark reality of life in Communist Europe in the middle of the twentieth century.

["Five Days of Freedom: Photographs from the Hungarian Revolution"]

From the guide to the Erich Lessing Hungarian Revolution photographs, 1956, 1998, 2006, (USC Libraries Special Collections)

Biographical/Historical Note

Austrian photographer.

From the guide to the Erich Lessing photographs, 1945-1998, (Hoover Institution Archives)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Lessing, Erich. Lessing, Erich : [photography bio file]. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Thomas J. Watson Library
creatorOf Erich Lessing photographs, 1945-1998 Hoover Institution Archives.
creatorOf Lessing, Erich. Erich Lessing photographs, 1945-1998. Stanford University, Hoover Institution Library
creatorOf Erich Lessing Hungarian Revolution photographs, 1956, 1998, 2006 USC Libraries Special Collections
Role Title Holding Repository
Direct Relationships
Relation Name
Place Name Admin Code Country
Austria Pictorial works.
Hungary History Revolution, 1956 Pictorial works.


Birth 1923




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