Ernst Haas, Tulips, Japan, 1980
Ernst Haas, Irises, Japan, 1980
Ernst Haas, Pansies, Colorado, 1983
Ernst Haas, Cosmos, California, 1981
Ernst Haas, Irises, Japan, 1984
Ernst Haas was born in Vienna in 1921 and studied photography at the Graphische Lehr und Versuchsanstalt in that city. After several photography-related jobs, he was offered a position at LIFE, and his first feature article, “Returning Prisoners of War,” was published in both Heute and LIFE in 1949. This prompted Robert Capa to invite Haas to join the Magnum agency, the international cooperative founded by Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, George Rodger, and Chim (David Seymour). Also in 1949, Haas purchased a Leica and began experimenting with color photography, the medium in which his work is best known. His twenty-four-page color photo essay on New York City, which appeared in LIFE in 1951 was both his and LIFE‘s first long color feature in print. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Haas worked in both black-and-white and color, contributing to LIFE, Look, Vogue, and Holiday. He also worked as a still photographer for films, among them The Pharaohs, The Misfits, and Little Big Man.
“Looking back, I think my change into color came quite psychologically. I will always remember the war years, including at least five bitter post-war years, as the black and white ones, or even better, the grey years. The grey times were over. As at the beginning of a new spring, I wanted to celebrate in color the new times, filled with new hope.”
Haas pioneered the use of color photography at a time when it was considered inferior to black-and-white as a medium for serious creative photographers. He went on to become the premier color photographer of the 1950s, working in the poetic vein of Saul Leiter and Eliot Porter. Haas was particularly interested in using photography to help viewers see everyday things (plants, people, cities) in a new light through close-ups, blurred images, and innovative compositions that perfectly balanced form, content, and color. These dye-transfer portraits of flowers highlight his extraordinary use of saturated color.