About the Photographer
Born in Vienna, Austria in 1921, Ernst Haas initially studied painting and briefly attended medical school before the outbreak of World War II. Following the liberation of Vienna in 1945, Haas devoted himself to photography. At first he made primarily abstract black and white photographs that emphasized light and form, although two years later he began to work as a photographer for the magazine Heute (Today) and his focus shifted to portraying Vienna and its people in the aftermath of the war. In 1949, Haas's photographic essay about the homecoming of prisoners of war brought him immediate attention. Shortly after, he joined the newly-founded photography cooperative Magnum Photos at the invitiation of Robert Capa. He also declined the offer of a highly sought-after staff position at LIFE magazine, which he felt would compromise his ability to pursue his own self-directed assignments. In his independent work, at first in black and white and later primarily in color, Haas embraced photography as a new way of seeing and as a sort of visual poetry. He emphasized the emotional and symbolic content in equal measure to the literal subject matter being recorded by the camera.
Ernst Haas is best known for his role as a pioneer in the field of color photography, helping to redefine how the medium was used. Drawn to color film before it was widely accepted by artists and photojournalists, he began to use color as a fundamental element in a photograph, with expressive potential of its own. Haas's first color photographic essay, completed in 1951 about the city of New York, was the first color essay to appear in LIFE magazine, where it was published two years later. In 1962 Haas was also the subject of the first ever solo exhibition of color photographs at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Although Haas's color photographs were highly influential, he also made innumerable black and white photographs during the first two decades of his career, well into the 1960s. Haas's later black and white photographs — such as the untitled image in MoCP's collection, which depicts an intricate swirl of soapy water — are refined formal compositions that recall his early interest in abstraction as a young photographer in Vienna. Haas died of a stroke in 1986. His archives are located in London at the Hulton Getty Picture Library, under a licensing agreement with Getty Images.