(Austria, United States of America 1921–1986)
33.3 x 48.3cm image/sheet
‘I never really wanted to be a photographer. It was a compromise that slowly grew out of a boyhood desire to combine two goals: explorer and painter. I wanted to travel, see and experience … What better profession could there be than that of a photographer, who is almost a painter in a hurry?’1
Working in the humanist tradition, Austrian-born Ernst Haas used his camera to express his reverence and affirmation of life. Haas first made his name as a black-and-white photographer in the years immediately following the Second World War, with his emotional photo essay ‘Returning prisoners of war’. Soon after he joined Magnum and as a freelance photographer he worked in a straight reportage style while covering the globe to produce colour essays for magazines such as ‘Life’, ‘Look’, ‘Vogue’ and ‘Holiday’. From the mid 1950s Haas’s search to reflect a deeper understanding of reality led him to explore newly developed colour-film technologies along with the semi-abstract depiction of movement and a more abstract interpretation of subject matter within the photo-essay format.
In the monochrome image ‘Egyptian boys’ Haas, like a lyric poet pursuing a photographic equivalent of gestural drawing,2 utilises such photographic effects as softness of focus, selective depth of field and low light to encompass a sense of not only seeing, but also feeling and memory. Transcending the immediacy of the subject itself Haas evokes musical connotations as the bands of light are like manuscript stave and the sleeping boys like notes beating and resting in the great rhythm of life.
1. Eastman Kodak Co 1979, ‘The joy of photography’, Addison-Wesley Publishing, Reading p 74
2. Coleman A D 2000, ‘A painter in a hurry: the photography of Ernst Haas’, available at: www.ernst-haas.com (Accessed 26 June 2006)
© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Five years on: a selection of acquisitions 1981-1986 1986, Sydney, 1986. cat.no. 157
Martyn Jolly, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'International photo-documentary', pg.151-167, Sydney, 2007, 156, 167 (illus.).
Robert McFarlane, Critic's Choice 1994, Sydney, 1994. no catalogue numbers
Five years on: a selection of acquisitions 1981-1986, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 26 Sep 1986–23 Nov 1986
Works from the Photography Collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 10 Feb 1989–15 May 1989
International Photographs from the Collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 12 Jan 1991–14 Apr 1991
Critic's Choice, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 22 Apr 1994–10 Jul 1994