Ernst Haas, Leica and Me

Jan 27, 2020  By Tom Campbell

This article will serve the dual purposes of explaining how I came to use Leicas, but more importantly, to remind us of the centenary of Ernst Haas’s birth on 2 March 2021, and why we should be interested.

When I opened a  copy of his landmark book, The Creation, published in 1971, my jaw dropped involuntarily, and it stayed that way as I perused it. Of course, I bought it. Seeing those photographs that Ernst Haas took with Leicas, and the photo on the rear cover fold by Gigi Minke of him holding a Leicaflex SL with 400/6.8 Telyt slip- grip lens, I knew that eventually, I would trade my Nikon kit for Leicaflexes and their lenses. After finishing college, doing two years in the Peace Corps and a year of grad school, I finally bought my first Leicaflex SL and 180/3.4 Apo-Telyt lens. I started filling out my lens collection after I entered Naval Officer Candidate School. Eventually,  I  carried two or three reflex cameras and various lenses from 21mm     to 400 mm focal lengths. The kit changed with newer camera models and some upgrades in lenses for over thirty years.

Now to move on to Ernst Haas, in my mind, a singular Genius of Seeing, and, for all intents and purposes, the inventor of small format color photography as we know it today.

Haas grew up in Vienna, Austria and experienced the aftermath of World  War  I  (WW1), the Great Depression and rise of Fascist and National Socialist politics, and World War II (WW2) and its aftermath. With some Jewish ancestry and having stayed in Austria throughout the Hitler years, his education, world view, and creative development were heavily influenced by all that happened during those years. He was well acquainted with the changes in the visual arts that erupted after World War I as Cubism, Favism, Dada, and all of the European abstractionist movements, to Surrealism. He made his first abstract photographs before the end  of WW2. While teaching photography after the end of  WW2  at an American Red Cross post, he realized a link between poetry and photography and also made the connection between photography and Surrealism from looking at photographs by Edward Weston in the post library.

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