Haas, Ernst

Austrian-American (1921-1986)


Though encouraged from an early age by his mother to pursue a career in the arts, Ernst Haas opted to attend medical school. Never mind that he’d been deeply affected by some of Edward Weston’s images, was making similar abstracted photos of everyday objects and had traded some hard-to-come-by margarine for his first camera; Haas still wanted to be a doctor. His loss turned out to be the world’s gain; a Jew, he was prohibited from continuing his studies in Austria and ended up taking a staff photographer position with the magazine, Heute. A photo essay chronicling his countrymen’s return from POW camps garnered Haas much acclaim and he was invited to become a member of the Magnum Agency at age 28.

In 1953, Haas moved to New York City and began experimenting with color photography; Life published its first color spread, “Images of a Magic City,” based on the strength of Haas’ New York shots. Haas continued to innovate with color, using the dye transfer process to achieve a saturated look and utilizing a slow shutter speed as a means of mixing colors in the viewfinder. Haas also attempted to obscure everyday objects not, like Weston, through framing and close-ups, but by capturing motion. A 1957 session at a bullfight yielded out-of-focus, often blurred images whose beauty belied the violence they portrayed. In his later years, Haas dabbled in film, serving as second director on John Huston’s The Bible. He was responsible for the photography in “The Creation” portion and developed a book on the same subject shortly following.