In 1929 Ilse Bing (1899–1998) acquired a Leica, a new small, lightweight camera that took 36 shots per roll of film. Its technical characteristics, revolutionary at the time, encouraged spontaneity, experimentation, and boldness. The first professional to wholeheartedly adopt this 35mm single-lens camera, Bing was soon dubbed by a critic as the “Queen of the Leica” for the inventiveness and originality she brought to this innovative technology.
Bing, who was born and raised in Germany, developed a successful career in Paris in the 1930s as an avant-garde and fashion photographer. Daringly surreal even in her commercial work, she brought a fresh approach to fashion in assignments for Harper’s Bazaar and designers like Elsa Schiaparelli. For other magazines, Bing captured the nightlife, amusements, and unique character of her adopted city, producing images that crossed the boundary between commerce and art. Her photographs were included in exhibitions at the Louvre and New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
Upon the Nazi invasion of France in 1940, Bing and her husband, both German Jews, were interned, but in June 1941 they were able to immigrate to New York. She struggled to establish an equally successful career in a new culture amid the constraints of the war years. In the late 1950s Bing abandoned photography, turning her creativity instead to poetry, drawing, and collage.
In the mid-1970s, a renewed fascination with 1930s modernism and a newfound interest in women artists sparked Bing’s rediscovery. Enthusiasm for her work has remained high over the ensuing decades. This exhibition, drawn largely from the museum’s collection, comprises around 50 photographs spanning her career, most recent gifts and purchases on view here for the first time.