Ilse Bing (American/German, 1899–1998), was a leading photojournalist and commercial photographer during the pre- and inter-War period in Paris. Bing was born in Frankfurt to a Jewish family who encouraged her intellectual education, as well as her education in arts and music. In the 1920s, while studying art history and mathematics at the universities in Frankfurt and Vienna, Bing purchased a Leica camera and immediately became intrigued with the world of photography. She rapidly became involved in the field, and got commissioned work for magazines such as Das Illustriete Blatt, Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar. Her unique photographic work has earned her the title "Queen of the Leica" from her well-known artist peers.

In 1936, Ilse Bing was given a solo exhibition at the June Rhodes Gallery in New York, where she stayed for three months. Bing was impressed with the New York City lifestyle, and, eventually, after marrying pianist Konrad Wolff in 1937, immigrated, and lived there until her death in 1998.

Bing is known for her experimentations with photographic techniques, and for being among the first to use electronic flash, solarize her negatives, and photograph at night. In 1957, she switched from black and white to color photography,.

In 1959, Bing abandoned photography completely, but continued to create drawings and collages, and write poetry. In 1976, she was rediscovered as a photographer by The Museum of Modern Art in New York. Her work was later included in exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Kunstverein in Frankfurt, and the Musée Carnavalet in Paris.

Timeline

1899
Born in Frankfurt, Germany to affluent bourgeois family
1920
Enrolled in the University of Frankfurt to study mathematics and physics, but soon changed to art history, eventually pursuing a doctoral degree
1928
To illustrate her dissertation on an architect, she took up photography and began using a 9x12c, Voigtlander plate camera. She eventually abandoned her dissertation to pursue a career as photographer
1929
Purchased a Leica camera
1929–1930
Her photographs were reproduced in photo-essays for Frankfurter Illustriete’s weekly supplement Das Illustriete Blatt
1930
Moved to Paris
1932
New York gallerist Julien Levy included Bing’s work in his seminal exhibition
1934
Experimented with solarization (which she discovered independently of Man Ray) to create a dream-like night-time atmosphere of statuaries, lights, and water
1936
At the invitation of Carmel Snow she visited the US, where she met Alfred Stieglitz. This same year she had solo exhibitions at Galerie Chasseurs d’Images and Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, France
1937
Married pianist and musicologist Konrad Wolff. Her photographs were included in New York’s Museum of Modern Art’s “History of Photography” exhibition
1930–1939
Her portraits, fashion and architectural studies were published in VU, Harper’s Bazaar, Le Monde, L’Illustration, Illustré, and Regards. Her work was included in the Groupe Annuel des Photographes at La Pleiade in 1931, 1932, 1933, and 1938 alongside that of Germaine Krull, André Kertesz, Florence Henri, Emmanuel Sougez, Man Ray, Henri Cartier-Bresson. Despite this she did not communicate or work closely with other photographers
1940
She and her husband interned in Paris as enemy aliens, and in 1941 they immigrated to New York
1947
Started using electronic flash and larger format Rollei camera
1957
Began working exclusively in color until stopping completely in 1959
1959
Quit photography and devoted herself to poetry, which she composed in English, French, and German. Made collages and drawings that incorporated photographic elements
1976
Her first solo exhibition in 17 years, Lee Witkin Gallery, New York. The show revived and sparked a new interest in her work
1976
Published "Numbers in Images," and is rediscovered as a photographer by Museum of Modern Art in New York, USA
1982
Published "Women from Childhood to Old Age"
1985
A retrospective "Ilse Bing: Three Decades of Photography" was shown at the New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, USA
1987
The retrospective then moved to the International Center of Photography in New York, and later to the Kunstverein in Frankfurt
1998
Died in New York, NY

Exhibitions

2007
Paris in Transition: Photographs from the National Gallery, National Gallery, Washington, D.C.
2005
Town and Country: Modern Life in America, Mead Art Museum, Amherst College, Amherst, USA
Ilse Bing: Queen of Leica, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, England (solo)
2004
French Photography of the1930s and 1940s, Zabriskie Gallery, New York, USA
My America: Art from the Jewish Museum Collection, 1900- 1955, Jewish Museum, New York, USA; traveled: Memorial Art Museum, Rochester University, Rochester, USA
1999
Insight: Women’s Photographs From the Collection of the George Eastman House, Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University, Ithaca, USA
1998
Ilse Bing, Edwynn Houk, New York, USA (solo)
1996
History of Women Photographers, New York Public Library, New York, USA
Ilse Bing: Fotografien 1929-1956, Suermondt-Ludwig Museum, Aachen, Germany (solo)
1994
Ilse Bing: Moulin Rouge, Paris, 1931, Houk Friedman, New York, USA (solo)
Ilse Bing: Vintage Photographs, Galerie Zur Stockeregg, Zurich, Switzerland (solo)
1992
Ilse Bing: Frankfurt, Paris, New York, Houk Friedman, New York, USA (solo)
1989
The New Vision: Photography Between the World Wars, Ford Motor Company Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA
Ilse Bing: Germany, Paris, New York, Edwynn Houk Gallery, Chicago, USA (solo)

Literature

Ilse Bing: Through the Looking Glass. Larisa Dryansky. Photographs edited by Edwynn Houk: Abrams, New York, 2006
Photographers Encyclopedia International, 1839 to the present, A-K. Michele and Michel Auer. Editions Camera Obscura: Hermance, Switzerland, 1985
Ilse Bing: Three Decades of Photography. Nancy C. Barrett. New Orleans Museum of Art. 1985
Ilse Bing: Vision of a Century. Edwynn Houk Gallery: New York, NY, 1998
Ilse Bing: Paris 1931-1952. Françoise Reynaud, Bernard de Montgolfier. 1987. Paris Musées, Muse Carnalvalet.