His life and work
Erich Lessing was born in Vienna on 13 July 1923, the son of a dentist and a concert pianist. In 1939, before finishing high school, Hitler's occupation of Austria forced him to emigrate to Israel (then still the British Mandate Palestine). His mother remained in Vienna and died in Auschwitz. Among several other jobs in Israel, Erich Lessing made a living raising carp and driving taxis. He eventually returned to his childhood hobby, photography, and found work as a kindergarten photographer and as a photographer for the British Army.
Returning to Austria in 1947, he worked for the Associated Press and joined Magnum Photos, the world-famous photographer's cooperative, as one of its first members in 1951. 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 famously covered the Hungarian Revolution, several summit meetings and President Charles de Gaulle's visit to Algeria.
After 1960 he turned his focus to historical personalities and eras, bringing them to life in photographic "evocations". These evocations included the lives and times of great musicians, poets, physicists and astronomers, the latter published in book form ("Discoverers of the Universe"). Erich Lessing published more than sixty books, including such classics as the history of Austria ("Imago Austriae"), the travels of Ulysses (which reached 75.000 copies in several editions in many countries), 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 gave lectures on 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 was given the American Art Editors' Award for his work during the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 and the Prix Nadar for his book "Odyssey" in 1966. In 1970 he received the Austrian Karl Renner prize for outstanding cultural achievements, in 1973 he was awarded the honorary title of Professor and in 1976 he was given the Cultural Award by the city of Vienna. In 1992 he was presented with Vienna's silver medal for outstanding services to the city. Erich Lessing also received the Imre Nagy medal, bestowed by the President of the Hungarian Republic. He was awarded the Golden Medal by the governor of Styria and received the "Great Austrian State Award" for his life's work in 1997.
The Lessing Photo Archive was founded in 1996 and a new photo gallery featuring exhibitions and vintage prints recently opened in Vienna in 2012.
Erich Lessing was married to the Time magazine journalist Traudl Lessing until her death in 2016. Together they have three children, four grandchildren, and one great-grandson.
Lessing is now married to RenÃ©e Kronfuss-Lessing, a renowned psychotherapist.