Often associated with advertisements, commerce and amateur photos, colour photography wasn’t considered appropriate for “fine art” in the 1950’s. As photographer Walker Evans once put it, “colour photography is vulgar.”
But at a time when colour photography was seen as inferior for serious photographers, Ernst Haas was paving new ground. Haas, who passed away in 1986, is acclaimed as one of the most celebrated and influential photographers of the 20th century and is widely considered one of the pioneers of colour photography.
Born in Vienna in 1921, Haas took up photography after World War II. His early work captured Austrian returning prisoners of war, which brought him to the attention of Life magazine – helping to kick-start his career.
In the 1950’s Ernst moved to the United States and began experimenting with Kodachrome colour film. His colour photography was innovative and bold, and he went on to become the premier colour photographer of the decade.
In 1953, Life magazine published his groundbreaking 24-page colour photo essay on New York City, which was the first time such a large colour photo feature was published by the magazine. Additionally, a retrospective of his work was the first colour photography exhibition held at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in 1962.
Throughout his career, Haas travelled extensively, photographing for Life, Vogue and Look, to name a few. Haas has continued to be the subject of 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’ legacy, aiding researchers and overseeing all projects related to his work.