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Western art


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Self portrait with Leica

printed 1941


Ilse Bing

Germany, United States of America

23 Mar 1899 - 10 Mar 1998


‘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

Media category


Materials used

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


Artist information

Ilse Bing

Works in the collection


Shown in 3 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 4 publications


Judy Annear, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'The photograph and portraiture', pg.15-31, Sydney, 2007, 11 (illus.), 28 (illus.).

Nancy Barrett, Ilse Bing: three decades of photography, New Orleans, 1985, 10. AGNSW edition not exhibited in the exhibition

Ilse Bing, Fotografien 1929-1956, Aachen, 1996. plate 4, AGNSW edition not exhibited in the exhibition

Musée Carnavalet, Ilse Bing: Paris 1931-1952, Paris, 1987. plate 16.1, AGNSW edition not exhibited in the exhibition