Biography | Bibliography
Bing was born in 1899 in Frankfurt, Germany. She studied art history and mathematics at the universities of Frankfurt and Vienna in the late 1920s. In order to finish her dissertation, she bought a Leica camera and taught herself photography; she fell in love with the art form and by 1930 she was living in Paris and working as a freelance photographer.
Her move from Frankfurt to the burgeoning avant-garde and surrealist scene in Paris in 1930 marked the start of the most notable period of her career. She produced images in the fields of photojournalism, architectural photography, advertising and fashion, and her work was published in magazines such as Le Monde Illustre, Harper’s Bazaar, and Vogue. Respected for her use of daring perspectives, unconventional cropping, use of natural light, and geometries, she also discovered a type of solarisation for negatives independently of a similar process developed by the artist Man Ray.
Along with her assignments, she was also exhibiting her work in important shows and galleries. With the threat of fascism looming, she fled to America where she had to start anew. She found work as a photographer doing portraits, fashion studies and picture essays.
She was never afraid to experiment and try new techniques and she did so throughout her career. She was one of the first to solely use a small format camera (Leica) in the 1930s and in 1948 she was one of the few using a Rolleiflex 2 1/4 inch negative. She was among the first to use electronic flash, solarize her negatives, and to photograph extensively at night.
In 1957 she stopped doing black and white photography and developed and printed her own color work. Then in 1959 she abandoned photography all together and concentrated on painting, poetry and collages. In 1976 she published Numbers in Images and is rediscovered as a photographer by the Museum of Modern Art of New York. In 1982 she published Women from Childhood to Old Age. Her work is in such collections as the San Francisco Museum of Fine Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Chicago Art Institute.
Larisa Dryansky, Ilse Bing : photography through the looking glass, New York : Abrams, ca. 2006.
Ilse Bing, Numbers in images : illuminations of numerical meanings, New York : Ilkon Press, 1976.