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Plachy was born in Budapest, Hungary. Her Hungarian Jewish mother was in hiding in fear of Nazi persecution during World War II. Her father was a Hungarian Roman Catholic of aristocratic descent and she was raised in his faith.
Plachy's family moved to New York City due to the Hungarian Revolution. There she met the photographer Andre Kertesz. Plachy's photo essays and portraits have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Village Voice, The New Yorker, Granta, Artforum, Fortune, and other publications. They have been exhibited in galleries and museums in Berlin, Budapest, Chicago, Minneapolis, New York, Paris and Tokyo, and they are in collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Sylvia Plachy's book, Self Portrait with Cows Going Home (2005), is a personal history of Central Europe with photographs and text, received a Golden Light Award for best book in 2004. Her first book, Sylvia Plachy's Unguided Tour, won the Infinity Award from the International Center of Photography for best publication in 1991.
Her other books are Red Light: Inside the Sex Industry with James Ridgeway (1996), Signs & Relics (2000), Out of the Corner of My Eye (2008) and Goings On About Town: Photographs for The New Yorker (2007). Plachy has been honored with a Guggenheim Fellowship (1977), a Lucie Award (2004), and the Dr. Erich Salomon lifetime achievement award (2009). She has taught and lectured widely.
- Audio interview with the artist; and photographs by the artist
- Self Portrait with Cows Going Home book
- photos from Style series
- Sylvia Plachy's web site
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