Self-Portrait in Mirrors, 1931
Signed and dated 1931
July 19, 2021
Ilse Bing's classic of modernist self-portraiture is included in “The New Woman Behind the Camera”, on view now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Blake Gopnik offers an insightful reflection on this picture in his review for The New York Times:
Women Who Shaped Modern Photography
Female authorship gives meaning to the images in “The New Woman Behind the
Camera” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, an inspired and inspiring exhibition.
"The German photographer Ilse Bing shoots into the hinged mirrors on
a vanity, giving us both profile and head-on views of her face and of
the Leica that almost hides it. Since antiquity, the mirror had been a
symbol of woman and her vanities; Bing claims that old symbol for
herself, making it yield a new image."
—Blake Gopnik for The New York Times, July 12, 2021
Ilse Bing (1899-1998) was one of the leading European photographers of the early 20th century. Bing bought her first camera in 1928 in order to illustrate her doctoral thesis on Neo-Classical German architecture. Bing's dual focus on architecture and photographyled to an early commission from the Dutch modernist architect Mart Stam, a teacher at the Bauhaus, to document his housing projects in Frankfurt. Stam was also Bing's introduction to Frankfurt's avant-garde artistic community and her work quickly showed the influence of the formal angularity associated with the Bauhaus.
Bing set aside her thesis and in 1930 moved to Paris where her newfound focus on photography intersected with the proliferation of magazines devoted to photojournalism. By this time she was shooting with a Leica, the new and revolutionary 35mm hand-held camera that she came to be associated with—in 1931 the critic Emmanuel Sougez dubbed her 'the Queen of the Leica'.
In Paris, Bing exhibited with many of leading figures of modern photography including Brassaï, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Man Ray, and André Kértesz. In 1932 the collector and influential gallerist Julien Lévy included her work in the exhibition Modern European Photography: Twenty Photographers at his New York gallery.
As a European Jew, the outbreak of the Second World War upended Bing's life and career. In 1940 Bing was forced to leave Paris and was interned in a concentration camp in the Pyrenees in the south of France. Bing and her husband were able to flee to the US in 1941 thanks to Bing's photojournalistic connections and the support of an editor at Harpers Bazaar. In the early 1960's she put aside her camera to pursue poetry, drawing and collage.