Pho­tog­ra­pher who shaped USA

He cre­ated an ad­ver­tis­ing icon — the Marl­boro Man — while his im­ages cap­tured the en­ergy of ’50s and ’60s Amer­ica

The Jewish Chronicle - - Front Page - BY ME­LANIE ABRAMS

ERNST HAAS was a mav­er­ick. He used his cam­era al­most as an an­ti­dote to the hard­ships he had suf­fered in Nazi Vi­enna. With only spo­radic train­ing, he turned to pho­tog­ra­phy af­ter be­ing kicked out of med­i­cal school for be­ing Jewish, forced into hard labour and see­ing his fa­ther die, heartbroken, at be­ing stripped of his po­si­tion in the Aus­trian gov­ern­ment. Yet by the 1950s, Haas was recog­nised as one of the world’s best pho­tog­ra­phers.

When he moved to Amer­ica to join Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bres­son and the other founders at Mag­num photo co-op­er­a­tive, he avoided worka­day pho­to­jour­nal­ism, pre­fer­ring to fo­cus on his own projects, whether ex­plor­ing the streets of New York, Ice­landic vol­canos or the Bud­dhist monks of Ti­bet. “He was al­ways an in­de­pen­dent thinker, from a child. It was his way or no way. The strug­gle dur­ing the war made his in­de­pen­dence even stronger. He thought: ‘I’m not go­ing to jeop­ar­dise my be­liefs for any­one’,” says his son, Alex Haas.

Re­ject­ing the pre­vail­ing black-and-white aes­thetic, Haas em­braced colour as early as 1949, which earned him the hon­our of be­com­ing the first pho­tog­ra­pher to have a solo show of colour work at the Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art (MOMA) in New York in 1962. He even ex­plored the vis­ual ef­fects of move­ment, blur­ring the colours to look like they had been ap­plied with paint.

“Haas was an ex­per­i­men­tal artist who worked with the DNA of still and mov­ing pic­tures, the pre­cur­sor to to­day’s mul­ti­me­dia and time-based works,” says Rox­ana Mar­coci, cu­ra­tor of pho­tog­ra­phy at MOMA.

His non-judg­men­tal ob­jec­tiv­ity shaped the world’s im­age of post-war Amer­ica. Ac­cord­ing to Lou Proud, head of pho­to­graphs at auc­tion house Phillips de Pury & Com­pany: “His fa­mous im­age of Route 66 has got ev­ery­thing — the cars, the sky­scrapers, even the neon ads for Conoco and Ken­tucky Fried Chicken. It’s vi­brant, ex­cit­ing and fast mov­ing — bring­ing to light what you think of as the quin­tes­sen­tial im­age of Amer­ica.”

He even shot that sym­bol of Amer­i­can cul­ture — the Marl­boro Man. This and other lu­cra­tive ad­ver­tise­ments for al­lAmer­i­can com­pa­nies such as Chrysler and Mo­bil fi­nanced his per­sonal projects and far-flung trav­els.

Ac­cord­ing to his son, Haas’s Euro­pean Jewish roots in­flu­enced this sen­si­bil­ity. “He had an ad­mi­ra­tion of Amer­ica with­out a sense of judg­ment. He took it in with­out think­ing. He was grate­ful that Amer­ica saved his life and wanted to ex­press it in his pho­tos,” he says.

Now a se­lec­tion of Haas’s ab­stract colour work is pub­lished for the first time in Color Cor­rec­tion, re-em­pha­sis­ing how avant-garde his work re­mains with its vi­brant colour con­trasts, su­per­im­posed lay­ers, shim­mer­ing re­flec­tions and po­etic de­tail such as torn posters, frac­tured build­ings or crum­bling pave­ments.

His ver­sa­til­ity re­mains un­prece­dented. “I can’t imag­ine Henri Cartier-Bres­son shoot­ing colour and be­ing so suc­cess­ful,” says Proud, who for­merly worked with Cartier-Bres­son on his 90th birth­day ex­hi­bi­tions.

Ju­dah Pas­sow, one of to­day’s lead­ing pho­to­jour­nal­ists, agrees: “Haas rein­vented him­self many times. It is hugely dif­fi­cult, but he did it suc­cess­fully each time. You can di­vide his work into dis­tinct piles and quite eas­ily think it is three dif­fer­ent pho­tog­ra­phers — for ex­am­ple, the black-and-white post-war Euro­pean work, the glossy land­scapes and the highly ab­stract colour works.”

Born in 1921, Haas turned to pho­tog­ra­phy af­ter the war to earn a liv­ing. In­spired by his fa­ther, an ama­teur pho­tog­ra­pher, he bought his first cam­era on the black mar­ket, in ex­change for a lump of mar­garine. His im­promptu pho­to­graphs cap­tur­ing a group of Aus­trian women anx­iously wait­ing for their men to re­turn from Rus­sian PoW camps were a sen­sa­tion. The se­ries, Home­com­ing Prisoners, which fa­mously in­cluded one dis­tressed mother hold­ing up a photo of her son to a smil­ing sol­dier who ig­nored her, was snapped up by the pop­u­lar Euro­pean pic­ture mag­a­zines. The emo­tion­ally wrench­ing shots caught the eye of Robert Capa, who in­vited him to New York to join his newly formed Mag­num along­side Cartier-Bres­son and other em­i­nent founders. Inge Bondi, who worked with Haas at Mag­num New York from his first day in 1951, re­called: “Ernst spoke a

lit­tle English. He was in his twen- ties and the youngest of the group. He dressed in acus­tom-madecor­duroy suit, no but­tons, zip­pers and pock­ets so that he could get at his rolls of film quickly. It was el­e­gantly made and it said quite a bit about Ernst — dif­fer­ent, prac­ti­cal and in­no­va­tive.”

A pop­u­lar col­league, he was elected the agency’s pres­i­dent in 1959. “He had a Jewish sense of hu­mour. He loved life, women, a good time and to eat. My fa­ther loved any ex­cuse to laugh and saw it as the best way to break the ice in life and work. He had suf­fered a lot in Aus­tria, so he was happy to be alive. Hav­ing fun was very im­por­tant,” says Alex Haas.

His hu­mour re­laxed his sub­jects. “He cap­tured the un­guarded mo­ments that oth­ers did not, such as his im­age of Al­fred Ein­stein in his study, try­ing to re­mem­ber where he had put a book about a Ger­man philoso­pher,” says Ben Bur­dett, di­rec­tor of At­las Gallery, which is show­ing Haas’s work from next month.

Haas’s con­tri­bu­tion to pho­tog­ra­phy was ce­mented in 1986, win­ning the pres­ti­gious Has­sel­blad Award just be­fore his death. Yet his legacy lingers, re­shap­ing pho­tog­ra­phy as his ab­stract aes­thetic, con­cep­tual de­sign and in­no­va­tive use of tech­nol­ogy re­mains as con­tem­po­rary and ex­cit­ing to­day as it did in the 1950s. ‘Color Cor­rec­tion’ by Ernst Haas is pub­lished by Steidl at £43.00 (www.stei­dlville.com). His work will be dis­played at At­las Gallery, 49 Dorset Street, Lon­don W1, from Septem­ber 14 (www.at­las­gallery.com)

PHOTO: ERNST HAAS ES­TATE

The cars, neon signs and sky­scraper make Route 66, Albuquerque, New Mex­ico 1968 a quin­tes­sen­tial Amer­i­can im­age

Haas: a mav­er­ick

PHOTO: ERNST HAAS ES­TATE

New York City 1953 dis­plays Haas’s use of colour and re­flec­tion

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