An image of Self portrait with Leica

Ilse Bing

(Germany, United States of America 23 Mar 1899 – 10 Mar 1998)

Self portrait with Leica

Not on display
Further information

‘Self portrait with Leica’ is a complex image in which the artist has photographed herself and her trademark Leica in one mirror, while the profile of both is reflected in another. The large button on her cuff disturbs the play between full face and profile, while the objects at the bottom of the frame lend a certain informality to an otherwise highly contrived set-up. The soft velvety curtain behind introduces a further element of rich tactility. The play between black, white and shades of grey softens and enriches the overall image.

Although Bing avoided becoming part of any specific movement of the 1920s or 1930s – for example, constructivism, the Bauhaus or surrealism, describing herself as being ‘on the edge of the periphery of the Bauhaus’ only – she was fully cognisant of the range of experimentation which was taking place across Europe. She forged her own path, combining an abiding belief in the importance of intuition and poetry with rigorous composition and superb technical skills.

Inspired by the work of Florence Henri, and with increasing confidence in her ability to marry naturalism with geometric formalism, Bing worked extensively as a press, fashion, portrait and documentary photographer in Paris until she was interned as an enemy alien in 1940. Late in her life Bing wrote:
'I didn’t choose photography; it chose me. I didn’t know it at the time. An artist doesn’t think first and then do it, he [sic] is driven. Now over fifty years later, I can look back and explain it. In a way, it was the trend of the time; it was the time when you started to see differently … And the camera, that was, in a way, the beginning of the mechanical device penetrating into the field of art.'1

1. Barrett N C 1985, ‘Ilse Bing: three decades of photography’, New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans pp 13–14

© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007

printed 1941
gelatin silver photograph
26.7 x 31.2 cm
Signature & date

Signed and dated u.l., ink "ILSE/ BING/ 1931".

Alistair McAlpine Photography Fund 2005
Accession number
© Ilse Bing Estate. Courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York