Obituary: Austrian Photographer Erich Lessing, 95

August 29, 2018

The cover of Lessing’s 2006 book Revolution in Hungary, which was published to mark the revolution’s 50th anniversary. Lessing earned honors from the Art Director’s Club and the Hungarian President his photographs.

Austrian photographer and Magnum Photos contributor Erich Lessing died today in Austria at the age of 95, the agency said in a statement. Lessing was known for his reporting on post-war Europe, from the rebuilding of Europe to the Hungarian revolution, for publications such as LIFE, Paris Match and Epocha.

A Jewish native of Vienna, Lessing was born in 1923. His father, a dentist, died when Lessing was 10. He was able to leave Austria as a teenager in 1939, and move to British Mandatory Palestine but his mother, a concert pianist, and his grandmother were murdered in Hitler’s concentration camps.

Lessing first made pictures of mothers with their children on the beaches in Tel Aviv to earn money. He also worked as a photographer at a kindergarten before joining the British 6th Airborne Division.

Lessing returned to Austria in 1946 and got to work making photographs, joining the Associated Press in 1947. “I wanted to show what life was like in the aftermath of the war,” he told The Guardian in 2016. “I wanted to tell the truth about the pain, death and destruction Europe was dealing with, as it tried to find a way out of the disaster. The mood was: let’s start rebuilding; let’s see how we can create a better world out of what the Nazis and the Soviets left behind.”

Lessing joined Magnum Photos in 1951 at the invitation of co-founder David “Chim” Seymour, becoming a full member in 1955. In 1956 he documented the Hungarian Revolution, and his images earned him an Art Director’s Club Award that year.

In 1958, Lessing photographed Charles de Gaulle’s visit to Algeria. Beginning in the 1960s, he turned his attention to history and art, producing more than 60 books. One of Lessing’s many books, The Voyages of Ulysses, a photographic tribute to Homer’s epic, was recognized in 1966 with the Prix Nadar. Lessing also taught photography at the Academy of Applied Arts in Vienna, at the Venice Biennale and the Salzburg Summer Academy. In 1992, he was recognized with an Imre Nagy medal from Hungary’s President. He received the Austrian Cross of Honor for Science and Art in 2013, in recognition of his life’s work.

Lessing’s first wife, journalist Traudl Lessing, died in 2016. Lessing is survived by three children, four grandchildren, a great-grandson, and his wife, the psychotherapist Renée Kronfuss-Lessing.