Bing, Ilse

German-American (1899-1998)


Ilse Bing believed that her artistic career was birthed when the adults in her young life downplayed and discounted her thoughts, feelings and ideas. Outwardly, she began to conform, studying history and math at the university, but inwardly she was waiting for a spark to ignite her hidden dreams and visions. That spark came in the form of a Leica camera, which she bought to take pictures for her dissertation. The dissertation work was soon over and she moved from Frankfurt to Paris in 1930, where she quickly became involved in the avant-garde and surrealist scenes. She began photographing more regularly alongside friends, Man Ray, Andre Kertesz and Henri Cartier-Bresson, soon becoming known as the “Queen of the Leica” and garnering assignments from Harper’s and Vogue. Her photos from this period bear the mark of the surrealist movement; she shoots from disorienting perspectives, crops her shots non-traditionally and makes use of shapes cast by light and shadows.

As she was gaining attention, being shown in museums and represented by galleries, Bing and her husband were sent to a WWII internment camp in 1939. They were released in 1940, at which point they fled to the US, where Bing basically had to start from scratch. She continued her innovative style, becoming one of the first photographers to use an electronic flash, solarize her negatives and photograph extensively at night. But fame eluded her and in 1959, she turned her attentions to painting and poetry. In 1977, Julian Levy, a US gallery owner who had followed Bing in her Parisian days, rediscovered some of her work and brought her to the public’s attention again by mounting a show in NYC.