Monday, July 27, 2015


Ernst Haas (1921–1986) is considered one of the best, most celebrated and influential photographers of the 20th century and considered one of the pioneers of color photography. Haas was born in Vienna in 1921.  He did not become a photographer until after the war. His early work showed Austrian prisoners of war returning home. This brought him to the attention of LIFE magazine. Initially he declined a job offer as staff photographer in order to keep his independence. But an invitation from Robert Capa changed his mind.  Soon after,  Haas joined Magnum in 1949.  There he developed a close associations with Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Werner Bishof.

In 1951 Haas moved to the United States where he began experimenting with Kodachrome color film.  He soon he became the premier color photographer of the 1950s. In 1953 LIFE magazine published his groundbreaking 24-page color photo essay on New York City. This was the first time such a large color photo feature was published by LIFE. In 1962 a retrospective of his work was the first color photography exhibition held at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

Throughout his career, Haas traveled extensively, photographing for LIFE, Vogue, and Look, to name a few of the many influential publications that featured his work  He created four books during his lifetime: The Creation (1971), In America (1975), In Germany (1976), and Himalayan Pilgrimage (1978).

Ernst Haas continued to work until 1986, the year of his death. He has been the subject of numerous museum exhibitions and publications such as Ernst Haas, Color Photography (1989), Ernst Haas in Black and White (1992), and Color Correction (2011). The Ernst Haas Studio, located in New York, continues to manage Haas's legacy, aiding researchers and overseeing all projects related to his work.

 Ernst Haas with Leicaflex                              Ernst Haas with Leica R4

It would be wrong to claim that Ernst Haas used only Leica equipment, but Leicas have definitely been an integral part of his professional life, and many of his famous photographs have been taken with Leica cameras.

When Ernst Haas began photographing in color, he soon created an entirely new approach to color photography by purposely using rather slow shutter speeds to blur the image.  However, as he explained, this was not left to chance.  He used the colors of the scene, and by deliberately blurring the image, he was actually able to create additional colors through the blurred overlap of the various subjects in the scene..  This approach was made especially famous by his photographs of bullfights in Spain.

Obviously, Haas applied his blurring technique to other subjects as well

Photograph from his book "The Creation"

The above photograph was later used by Kodak for the Kodak Colorama at Grand Central Station in New York City in 1977.  The original picture was taken with a Leicaflex SL and a 50mm Summicron-R lens on Kodachrome 25.  The finished Colorama consisted of 20 vertical panels of 3 feet width and 18 feet height for a total size of 18 x 60 feet This was the first time a 35mm picture had been used for this project.  It presents a 508 times enlargement to achieve the width of the image.  It was a definite testament of the quality of the film and that of the Leica camera and lens.

From the book "In America"

Ernst Hass quite often tried to take photographs of ordinary subjects and to present them as an apparently abstract photograph, although, as he explained, that is a contradiction of terms.  A photograph cannot possibly be abstract because a camera can only record actual subject matter.

"The Cross"

"Snow Lovers"

Holy Underwear © Ernst Haas
"Holy Underwear"

"Red Bird"

Ernst Haas had an uncanny ability to find ordinary subjects and by seeing beyond the obvious, was able to create extraordinary photographs.

The first time I met Ernst Haas was at a meeting of the Leica Historical Society of America.  He had been invited as the main speaker for the event.  One thing that struck me immediately was that here was a person who gained international fame with his wonderful color photography and his masterful use of colors, yet he was clothed all in black, black pants, black shirt, black jacket, black tie.  I saw him talking in German to Walter Heun, the former director of the Leica School.   That in itself was quite an interesting conversation.  I knew Walter Heun and, upon noticing me, he introduced me to Ernst Haas.  I was fortunate to meet him again on a couple of other occasions.

There have been many excellent and important photographers, past and present.  Ernst Haas was without question one of the greatest of them all.

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with Craig Semetko - August 2015

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  1. Travis Rock wrote:
    I dont see what makes him great

    1. Patrick Pfister answered:
      Travis, when he was creating these images, no one was doing this sort of thing. Many folks picked up his technique and so it seems somewhat common today. He gave color a whole new look, regardless of the camera system.

    2. Not only did he give color a new look, he carefully considered what the colors would look like when blended by the motion. In doing so he effectively created new colors which did not show in the original scenes and would not have shown without his technique.

    3. Travis Rock answered:
      Seems like more of a fine art approach than anything else

    4. Yes indeed, Haas went far beyond taking snapshots. Anyone can take a picture, especially with today's automatic everything cameras. There is no skill involved. Early photographers like Stieglitz, for instance, fought very hard to have photography accepted as an art form, and just like so many before him, Haas created art. He took photographs instead of just pictures.

  2. These are amazing! They are indeed fine art! In today's world where everyone is a photographer with at least their phones and many more enthusiasts exploring the subject with copious latest equipment, it is wonderfully refreshing to have a different way of seeing and expressing. So many photographs can be duplicated; many, sterile recordings of over photographed Icons or snapshots because app processing/filters makes it all easy. An artist searches for his/her style/signature. For their own 'voice' to stand out from the crowd. For their own unique vale. This is why these are art form. These takes vision, these takes skill, these are emotive and timeless! Yes, many have tried similar techniques but still they fail to come even close! Inspiring! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I would like to be able to say that you took the words right out of my mouth, but you said it so much better than I could.

  3. Jürgen Gerardts wrote:
    Watch if you can the Book "Die Schöpfung" from Ernst Haas and you will see what he was able to Do!

    1. That book is probably his greatest published work. Die Schöpfung, English title The Creation, is available in several languages. It is an artistic tour de force.