A native of Berlin, Henry Ries began studying photography in 1937, a year before his immigration to the United States. He served in the U.S. Army Air Corps as an aerial photographer in World War II, and was a photo-correspondent for The New York Times Magazine from 1947 to 1952. During those years Ries produced many features on the postwar situation in Western Europe, including stories on the Italian elections of 1947, the Berlin blockade in 1948-49, and the 1948 Winter Olympics. Upon his return to New York in 1952, he produced food and fashion features for The New York Times studio, and in 1955 he opened his own studio, through which he photographed for major advertising agencies and magazines until 1991. In the 1970s, before the age of computer-enhanced imagery, Ries created abstract color images with various camera lenses and other optical devices, which he termed "Helioptix;" these were used for advertisements, logos, and book jacket designs and were exhibited at photography shows and fairs like Photokina in Cologne. Ries published several books, including German Faces (1949), Berlin Portraits (1980), and The Berlin Blockade (1998). In addition, his personal work and photojournalism have been exhibited at ICP and the Gropius Museum, among many other institutions.
Henry Ries's best-known work involves his ongoing observation of postwar Berlin. By juxtaposing symbols of the city's history, such as the Reichstag and the Berlin Wall, with scenes of contemporary life and interviews with residents, visitors, and survivors of the Holocaust, his work makes visible the city's difficult and complex past. His photographs remind us that while history is both constantly present and often forgotten in the modern world, it leaves traces in our collective memory that cannot and should not be suppressed as we go on with our lives.
Lisa Hostetler Handy et al. Reflections in a Glass Eye: Works from the International Center of Photography Collection, New York: Bulfinch Press in association with the International Center of Photography, 1999, pp. 225-26.