Erich Lessing (born 1923 in Vienna) saw himself not merely as a storyteller, but rather as an attentive chronicler of the world around him and the times he was living in. Born into a Jewish family, he fled Vienna for Palestine in 1939, where he studied radio engineering and worked as a taxi driver, before rediscovering his interest in amateur photography. He subsequently joined the British Army as a photographer and aviator. After the end of World War II, Lessing returned to Vienna. In 1947, he started to work for the Associated Press news agency. Just four years later, he was honoured with a membership at Magnum Photos.
In addition to his politically themed projects, which account for the majority of his oeuvre, Lessing was also widely recognised for his on-set documentation of famous cinema films such as Moby Dick and The Sound of Music. In the 1960s, he increasingly turned his attention to subjects such as art, science and history, producing more than 60 photo books. His work has been honoured with multiple international awards, including the Art Directors’ Club Award and the Prix Nadar. Lessing also taught photography at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, and helped establish a photography professorship for the UNIDO in India.
Along with fellow Magnum members Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa and David Seymour, Lessing – who was always known for his keen observations of society – established himself as one of the great masters of photography history.
Erich Lessing passed away in Vienna on 28. August 2018, at the age of 95.