School of Art
Erich Lessing5 July – 24 September 1999
A touring exhibition sponsored by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Erich Lessing was born in Vienna in 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) where he worked on agricultural jobs in several Kibbuzim. His mother remained in Vienna and died in Auschwitz. In Israel he returned to his childhood hobby of photography working as a Kindergarten photographer and later as a photographer with the British Army.
In 1947 he returned to Austria to work as a photographer for the Associated Press and in 1951 joined Magnum, a photographers' co-operative with offices in Paris and New York. He worked chiefly for LIFE, Paris Match, Picture Post and Quick magazines covering the Hungarian Revolution, several summit meetings and President Charles de Gaulle's visit to Algeria.
After 1960 he attempted 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, the latter published in book form as Discoverers of the Universe. Erich Lessing's books, over 40 titles, include Imago Austriae (The History of Austria), the travels of Ulysses, two volumes on the Old Testament, the Italian Renaissance, the history of the Low Countries, the travels of Saint Paul, two books on art and religion in ancient Egypt and a History of France.
Erich Lessing has taught photography in Arles, at the Venice Biennale, in Ahmedabad in India under a UNESCO programme, at the Salzburg Oskar Kokoschka summer school 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 Die Odyssee in 1966. He received the Austrian Dr Karl Renner prize for outstanding cultural achievements in 1970, was awarded the title of Professor in 1974 and was presented with the Culture Award of the city of Vienna in 1976. In 1992 he was awarded Vienna's silver medal for outstanding services to the city.