* “Master Profiles” is a series profiling all the great photographers of uncontrolled life. Unlike the rest of the blog, I’m doing these in a straight profile format to make it easy for quick access to facts, quotes and knowledge on all the masters. I’ll also group them together here every time I add a new one.
Ernst Haas (1921-1986)
Austrian photographer and photojournalist known for his pioneering use of color and abstract aesthetic.
Born: March 2nd, 1921 in Vienna, Austria
Ernst Haas grew up in Vienna, Austria before World War II. Along with the city, his parents helped push his passion for the arts and creativity. He started in painting and was highly recognized during his private schooling. Unfortunately, the start of World War II closed his school and he was sent to a labor camp in the Germany Army.
After being able to return to Vienna to study medicine, he was forced out after only one year due to his Jewish ancestry. During this time, he grew more interested in photography, partly because it was the closest way to satisfy his two passions, exploring and painting. He wanted to travel and see the world, but keep his inspiration from the arts when he photographed. He spent time learning everything he could about the medium and got a job teach photography to soldiers, while working on documenting the war’s effects in Vienna. From this work, he gained magazine assignments and features, including a photo essay of this work in Life magazine, titled “Homecoming.”
These photos also made their way to famous war photographer, Robert Capa, who asked him to join the legendary Magnum Photos, only 2 years old a the time. While his first few assignments cover European cities, like Vienna and London, he soon moved to New York City, where he lived the rest of his life.
In New York, he started photographing the streets with an approach more similar to paintings than his peers. His photos were sometimes soft with selective focus, or even blurred, to help give this impression. And while he continued to shoot in black and white, his main focus turned to color film. He experimented in color, which was not a respected medium at the time, while creating images that transformed life into visual poetry. City streets, window reflections, and abstract visions of the life around him were some of the things he was attracted to. He felt the vibrance of color best captured the excitement of changing times, post war.
While he had to keep up on commercial and photojournalistic work to make money, he spent his free time on his own work and passion. A Leica 35mm rangefinder became his camera of choice, along with saturated colors of Kodachrome film. He also used the dye transfer process on his film for richer colors. Again being featured in Life magazine, they published a 24 page spread of his work titled “Magic Images of a City.” It was the first complete color story featured in the magazine. Later, he also gave the first single-artist color photography exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
While living in New York, he traveled often for photography and in 1959 became the 4th president of Magnum. In addition to his photojournalist work and personal exhibitions, he also worked in advertising photography and movie stills.
He passed away in 1986, but not before building an impressive legacy over his 40-year career. He became known as pioneer of color film, while bringing his abstract vision to photography.
- Pioneer of Color
- Abstract, lines, reflections, texture
- Creating mood and feeling through color and light
- Beauty from the mundane
Ernst Haas’ earliest B&W work in Vienna was shot with a Rolleiflex, but he soon switched to Leica for the rest of his career. He first used a IIIf, then an M3 with 50 and 135 mm lenses, followed by a Leicaflex with 28, 50 and 90 mm lenses. Ernst used the full range of Leica lenses, from 21mm to 180m, throughout his career, though.
For film, he loved the original Kodachrome, but eventually was forced to use Kodachrome II after it was discontinued.
“There are two kinds of photographers: those who compose pictures and those who take them. The former work in studios. For the latter, the studio is the world…. For them, the ordinary doesn’t exist: every thing in life is a source of nourishment.”
“The camera doesn’t make a bit of difference. All of them can record what you are seeing. But, you have to SEE.”
“With photography a new language has been created. Now for the first time it is possible to express reality by reality. We can look at an impression as long as we wish, we can delve into it and, so to speak, renew past experiences at will.”
“The best pictures differentiate themselves by nuances…a tiny relationship – either a harmony or a disharmony – that creates a picture.”
“Best wide-angle lens? Two steps backward. Look for the ‘ah-ha’.”
“Style has no formula, but it has a secret key. It is the extension of your personality. The summation of this indefinable net of your feeling, knowledge and experience.”
“You become things, you become an atmosphere, and if you become it, which means you incorporate it within you, you can also give it back. You can put this feeling into a picture. A painter can do it. And a musician can do it and I think a photographer can do that too and that I would call the dreaming with open eyes.”
“You don’t take pictures; the good ones happen to you.”
“Learn by doing or even better unlearn by doing.”
“A picture is the expression of an impression. If the beautiful were not in us, how would we ever recognize it?”
“The most important lens you have is your legs.”
“I want to be remembered much more for a total vision than for a few perfect single pictures.”
“There is only you and your camera. The limitations in your photography are in yourself, for what we see is what we are.”
“I am not interested in shooting new things – I am interested to see things new.”
What Others Said About Him:
“It is rare that the man equals the artist: Ernst did… His work was awesome, not just to me, but to an entire generation of photographers. The depth and breadth of it will emerge for years to come. I think it will be a startling revelation because he was as prolific as he was sensitive. He had a different head. It wasn’t overly crammed with photography; it was full of music, art, philosophy, and history. In short, he was a rarity, a well-educated man without cynicism, in love with the work around him.” – Jay Maisel (Photographer)
Related Photographers to Check Out:
In 1946, Ernst Haas acquired his first camera. He took 1o kilos of margarine he had been gifted for his 25th birthday and traded it for a 35mm Rollieflex.