Riess was born in Czarnikau in the Prussian Province of Posen where her Jewish parents were shopkeepers. At the end of the 1890s, the family moved to Berlin where she first studied sculpture under Hugo Lederer (c. 1907) and later photography at the Berlin "Photographischen Lehranstalt", receiving her diploma in the summer of 1915.
In 1918, she opened a business on the prestigious Kurfürstendamm; it became one of the most popular studios in the city. Partly as a result of her marriage to the journalist Rudolf Leonhard in the early 1920s, she extended her clientele to celebrities such as playwright Walter Hasenclever, novelist Gerhart Hauptmann and actors and actresses including Tilla Durieux, Asta Nielsen and Emil Jannings. While on a trip to Italy in 1929, she was invited to photograph Benito Mussolini. In addition, she contributed to the journals and magazines of the day including Die Dame, Berliner Illustrierte Zeitung, Der Weltspiegel, Querschnit and Koralle.
Move to Paris
Her success in Berlin was however short-lived. In 1932, after falling in love with the elderly French ambassador in Berlin, she moved to Paris with him, disappearing from the public eye. Even the date of her death cannot be clearly established and her place of burial remains unknown.
- "Berlinische Galerie widmet sich der einst hochgeschätzten und heute vergessenen Berliner Fotografin Frieda Riess: Bildniskunst zwischen Tradition und Moderne", Kunstmarkt.com. (in German) Retrieved 7 March 2013.
- Marc Peschke, "Wiederentdeckt: Die Fotografin Frieda Riess", Photoscala. (in German) Retrieved 7 March 2013.
- "Frieda Riess", Weimar. Retrieved 7 March 2013.
- "Die Lichtbildhauerin", Die Zeit, 8 August 2008. Retrieved 7 March 2013.
- Nicola Kuhn, "Zum Tee ins Atelier", Der Tagesspiegel, 5 June 2008. (in German) Retrieved 7 March 2013.
- Frieda Riess; Thomas Ehrsam (2008). Die Riess: fotografisches Atelier und Salon in Berlin 1918-1932 (in German). Das Verborgene Museum.