The Photographer

Erich Lessing

His Life and Work.

Erich Lessing covered THE most important political event in Austria – the ratification of the Austrian States independency charta at the Belvedere castle 1955 in Vienna. His signature picture facing the entire Government at the balcony on the Belvedere after this event is a symbol and key picture of the Austrian history.


Erich Lessing was born in Vienna in 1923 as the son of a dentist and a concert pianist. His father died of cancer in 1933. In 1939 the Sixteen-year-old Erich Lessing managed to escape to Palestine, but his mother and grandmother were murdered in Theresienstadt and Auschwitz. Lessing studied radio engineering at the Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. Working as a taxi driver and a carp breeder in a kibbutz, he eventually found his way back to the hobby of his youth, photography. He started out as a kindergarten and beach photographer before joining the British 6th Airborne Division.
Returning to Austria in 1947, Lessing was hired as a photo journalist for the American news agency Associated Press. In 1951, David ‚Chim‘ Seymour invited him to join Magnum Photos, a photographic cooperative with offices in Paris, New York, London and Tokyo. He became a full member in 1955 and has been a contributor since 1979.
The tolerant and open minded Humanist Erich Lessing covered many significant political and social events. His photographs illustrate the atmosphere of post-war Europe, such as Allied occupation in Vienna, reconstruction in war-damaged Germany, life under communist rule in Eastern Europe, several political summit conferences, Charles de Gaulle’s visit to Algeria in 1958 and the dramatic events of the Hungarian Uprising in 1956.


Erich Lessing’s photographs were published in renowned magazines including LIFE, Paris Match, Epoca, Picture Post, and Quick. Many of his images, such as the photograph showing the presentation of the Austrian State Treaty on the balcony of the Belvedere palace in front of a cheering crowd, have become iconic. Lessing’s portraits of politicians like Dwight D. Eisenhower, Konrad Adenauer or Nikita Khrushchev, and artists like Herbert von Karajan or Oskar Kokoschka won him international acclaim. He took pictures of the actors and crew on the film sets of Freud, Moby Dick, Zorba the Greek and The Sound of Music, and continued to vividly capture everyday life and unusual events, such as the ‚Miss Sopot‘, the first beauty contest to be held in communist Poland..


From the 1960s, Lessing concentrated more on documentation of art and historical subjects, specializing in large-format colour photography. He was the main Art Photographer of the Louvre in Paris. His work was published in more than sixty art books by international publishers: Szene about the Viennese Burgtheater and Opera, The Voyages of Ulysses in the footsteps of Homer, Imago Austriae, an Austrian history, The Bible as a history of the Jews, The Travels of Saint Paul, Florence and the Renaissance.


Having taught photography in Arles, at the Venice Biennale, at the Salzburg Summer Academy and at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, Erich Lessing has been honored with numerous international awards such as The Art Directors Club Medal for his work during the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 and the Prix Nadar for his book The Voyages of Ulysses in 1966. In 2013, Lessing received the Austrian Cross of Honour for Science and Art, First Class. This award was bestowed by the Republic of Austria in recognition of his lifetime achievements. He is a member of UNESCO’s International Commission of Museums (ICOM).


ERICH LESSING (1923 – 2018) entrusted his second wife Renée Kronfuss-Lessing – Owner and General Manager of Erich LESSING Kunst- und Kulturarchiv Ges.m.b.H. ( – to preserve his Oeuvre. This archive and photo agency based in Vienna, organizes and licenses his photographic collection of more than 40.000 images and works closely with a network of international distribution agents as well as directly for exhibitions and more.