From POW to MAGNUM
His name popped up right between Robert Mapplethorpe and Barbara Klemm. It was one of the first books I bought by Taschen. I lived on the Gentlemens Canal (Herengracht) in Amsterdam and it was a sunny Saturday morning. Every Saturday morning I first went out for some grocery shopping and bought a newspaper, which I read immediately when I got back home. After reading the last page, I folded the paper and had breakfast while reading a book. Any kind of book really. This particular time it was a book about photographers and I stopped for a second when I came across a man called Ernst Haas.
When we talk photographers, we talk, just like in art or design, about taste and beauty. Which is only skindeep. When you see something you like, there is no need to explain or elaborate on. It just is. I can name a couple of them that really got to me, from Malanga to Lange and from Doisneau to Witkin. We all have our favourites. Haas, to me, jumps right out. Maybe because of its early or USA street work that intrigues me or the fact that he got picked up by Capa so soon in his career. I do not know. Anyway: Ernst Haas it is for this Lecture.
Born in Vienna in 1921, he first started photographing scenes of homecoming German and Austrian POW after the Second World War. These were the images that got me interested in him in the first place. It were also these pictures that brought him quick international fame. It only went uphill from that moment on. He got solo exhibitions and in 1949 he was asked to join MAGNUM PHOTOS, the most prestigious photographic cooperative in the whole wide world, founded by, among others, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capa. That must say something.
After moving to the USA in 1951 he decided not to do any photo-reportages but to start working on photographic essays in colour . This career switch brought him again fortune and fame with publications in Life magazine, Look, Holiday, Vogue, Esquire, Stern and so on. And the end of that decade, Popular Photography, placed him among the 10 best photographers in the world! He was 37 years old. (my age at this very moment...)
Later in my life, and long after his death in 1986, I bump into his work every now and then. His pictures of the French Foreign Legion in Indochina, beautiful Paris locations, The Band and others. But finding his work, Alburquerque - New Mexico from 1969, in my local Ikea, got me thinking. His work ws picked up and did become and instant Ikea hit. Many walls got decorated with this beautiful colourful picture. Including mine. A great way to remember and enjoy the work of a great 20th century mensch.
Haas died in New York in 1986.