Tuesday, April 25, 2017


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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  1. Michael Michael wrote:
    Thanks, Heinz. I am presently reading about his arrival at Magnum and his early New Mexico work. Fascinating photographer and your report fills in a few details!

  2. Dimitris Georgopoulos wrote:
    My first mentor in colour photography. Probably the most important photographer of 20th century.

  3. Vincent Phillips wrote:
    Great photographer, but why does the headline say 'Greatest Leica photographer'. What has the make of his camera got to do with his talent ?

    1. The camera has absolutely nothing to do with his talent. However, these days when the Leica by many of the nay-sayers is described as being only bought by doctors and lawyers, and not by valid photographers, it makes sense to point out that this isn't so, especially on a blog dedicated to Leica.

    2. Vincent Phillips answered:
      Do people really worry about what type of camera certain people use ? Obviously they have way to much time on their hands.

    3. Obviously, you didn't understand my answer.

    4. Vincent Phillips answered:
      I get the feeling you think I have some how implied a slight to Leica users by questioning the title of the above article. I'm not sure how this can be, but perhaps you didn't understand my original comment.

    5. I understood your initial comment perfectly, and I answered by agreeing that a camera, any camera, has nothing to do with a photographer's talent. But you obviously are not willing to concede that, with the constant barrage of criticism heaped on owners of Leica cameras, it is of interest to them to see that accomplished photographers indeed use Leica cameras. As such, the title about my post about Ernst Haas is a valid one, especially on a blog dedicated to Leica. The large number of positive responses obviously show that, with your exception, readers of my blog agree with me.

    6. Vincent Phillips answered:
      Judging by the amount of articles you put on this forum about Leica you seem to have an emotional connection to the brand. So I should have realised this before l commented on your post, and made it quite clear that l was making no slight against Leica users. So l apologise for not being aware you could be very sensitive towards any perceived slight or criticism towards the Leica brand and it's users.

    7. No apologies necessary, because I did not perceive any slight against Leica from you. All I tried to do is give an explanation as to why I titled the article the way I did.