Ilse 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.
By 1930 she was living in Paris and working as a freelance photographer. Along with her assignments, she was also exhibiting her work in important shows and galleries. With the threat of fascism looming, Bing fled to America where she had to start over. She found work as a photographer doing portraits, fashion studies and picture essays.
Bing was one of the first to rely on a small format camera 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 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 was 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, Cornell University's Herbert F Johnson Museum of Art and the Chicago Art Institute, among others. She died in 1998.