Special Report: Remembering Ernst Haas

By Eric Meola   Tuesday September 13, 2016

This week, we are spotlighting the photographer Ernst Haas, who died 30 years ago, in September, 1986. As photographer Eric Meola noted yesterday, “Haas was to color photography what Robert Frank was to black and white — a revolutionary.” Meola also calls Haas “perhaps the greatest photographer to have lived in modern times.” As an artist and teacher, he influenced a generation of photographers and others in the photo world, and over the past several months Meola has been gathering reminiscences from many who knew him. Today we hear from four, photographer Arthur Meyerson, Maine Photographic Workshops founder David Lyman, writer and former Magnum secretary Inge Bondi, and photographer Ralph Nelson. Go here  for yesterday's installment.

Arthur Meyerso

Arthur Meyerson is a celebrated photographer, workshop instructor and mentor.  For 40 years, professional assignments have taken him around the world. His fascination with light, color and the moment continues and in 2012 culminated in his acclaimed book  The Color of Light. Besides winning numerous awards for his work, American Photo magazine named him as one of the top photographers in advertising, and he has been profiled in many photography publications. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops as well as having served on the Advisory Council for The Center for Photography and the Houston Center for Photography.

Arthur met Ernst Haas in 1984 on a photo expedition of  Japan. Ernst would go on to become his friend, mentor and self-appointed godfather to his daughter, Jessica.

When teaching photo workshops, one of the first questions I ask my class is, “How many of you know the name Ernst Haas?”

And, sadly, over the years, the number of hands that go up … has gone down.

This year, being the 30th anniversary of his death, I think it is more important than ever for people to become aware of the man and his work.

When I started out in photography, there were certain photographers whose photographs excited me and inspired me. Most of them worked in black and white… only a few in color. And the one that had the most influence over me was Ernst Haas.

I remember the first time I saw his book, The Creation, which was published a few years before I became a professional photographer. The beauty and power of those images resonated with me then and continues to today.

Later, I began to realize that more and more of his work I had actually seen before in the pages of Life, Look and the other big picture magazines of that time.

Here was someone doing something unique in photography and doing it in color long before others had the insight or courage to do so.

To me and a generation of photographers who came up around the same time, Ernst was the father of color photography. In many ways, he was the closest I have ever come to meeting a true renaissance man. Music, painting, poetry, and philosophy were all part of his being. And yet he had this amazing ability to wrap everything up into photography. His photographs, his books, his writings, his audio-visual slide shows were all extraordinary, as was the man. His knowledge, wit and humor I still carry with me to this day and try to pass on to my students.

In 1984 when the opportunity came to travel with Ernst on a photo tour of Japan, my wife, Linda, and I signed up immediately. I was excited about the possibility of meeting one of my heroes. At the same time, I was a bit nervous. What would the man whose images I had grown to admire actually be like in person? I soon found out that Ernst matched his images in elegance and charm. And, that that trip would be life changing for me on many levels.

During that time Ernst had grown to love Japan and all things Japanese and the itinerary that he created was unique in that it included so many of his favorite places and events which he was willing to share with our group.

People often ask, “What did you learn from Ernst?”  There were so many things. One of the first lessons I remember came early on during that Japan trip. I was schlepping an overstuffed camera bag and a tripod along with a few cameras around my neck. With a gentle smile he pulled me aside and asked, “How do you feel?” I wearily replied, “Fine except that physically, I’m exhausted.” He suggested that I lighten my load by leaving the camera bag and tripod in the hotel and try working with just one or two cameras with fixed focal length lenses. “Use your feet to zoom in or out, because the less you carry, the more you will see. And the more you see the more photographs you’ll make.”

After Japan, we would continue to stay in touch. I would visit him at his studio/home in New York and occasionally join him as a guest speaker when he taught workshops. We would have late-night phone conversations that included advice, great stories and lots of laughter.

In May of 1986, I hosted a workshop for him at my studio in Houston where, among other things, he debuted his Abstraction audio-visual slide show, one of the most hauntingly powerful a/v presentations I’ve ever witnessed. It was a perfect ending to an amazing week. It was also the last time that I would see him.

While I only knew Ernst for the last few years of his life, the friendship that evolved and lasted until his untimely death allowed me the opportunity to get to know this man not only as the great photographer that he was, but also as a mentor and a dear friend as well as the self-appointed godfather to my daughter, Jessica.  

Certain people come into our lives and we are never the same afterwards. How lucky I was to have had him in my life.

David Lyman

David H. Lyman launched The Maine Photographic Workshops, a summer school for media professionals and amateurs, in 1973. For 35 years, he was the driving force behind The Workshops' growth into a film school, a college and a world-renowned conservatory for visual storytellers. When photographer George Silk withdrew from leading a workshop in color photography in 1974, he suggested that David call Ernst Haas as a replacement. He came that first summer with his two children Victoria and Alex, and an assistant. He then returned every summer for the next 12 years to lead a series of master classes. He eventually bought a home in Rockport, and was instrumental in shaping the philosophy of The Workshops while mentoring many of today’s leading image makers.

David turned over The Workshops and the college he created to a non-profit group in 2007 ( and went sailing with his family. He returned to Camden, Maine, where he lives, writes, photographs and creates new projects while raising two teenagers — daughter Renaissance and son Havana. He’s available to coach and mentor artists and gives occasional lectures on the creative process of artists and entrepreneurs.

Ernst’s influence on photographers and photography was profound. He brought an old-world graciousness to the profession. His philosophy, recorded on a black-and-white television show he hosted in the 1960s, and his talks at The Workshops helped raise photography from journeyman’s occupation to that of an artist exploring the world and one’s inner journey through the process of seeing and then discovering what it was you had seen. What I remember most were the meals, in New York City at his apartment in the Wyoming Building, here at The Workshops, where he could explain the processes of seeing, experiencing an event, responding viscerally to a moment:  “You press the shutter with your gut, your stomach,” he said. "You do not think, you respond. You think later, when you are editing.” About psychotherapy, he said: “Don’t get self-psychoanalyzed. You may then lose the reason why you photograph . . . to discover yourself who you are.”

His grasp of European history, some of which he actually lived, would fill an entire evening’s dinner. His knowledge of music, the world of painting, and the cafe society of Paris in the late 1940s and early 1950s ...  it was like listening to Hemingway regale us with stories of his periods with writers and painters. For me, Ernst was like a wise uncle. (I play a similar role these days, for his daughter, Victoria.) I would visit him in his New York apartment, be invited to lunch and stay all day. It was there that much of The Workshops' philosophy developed — the need for informal space, not sterile university classrooms, but improvised spaces. He walked into the barn behind my house in Rockport one day and said: “This will make a wonderful place to meet. We can close the large door to look at slides in the dark, and open them to flood in the light when looking at prints.” He wanted a space in which to relax, on the grass, under a tree, with a group of people who shared two things, their love and curiosity for the process of image making. The Village of Rockport was our campus.

The evening slide shows are always a magical part of any workshop experience — the opportunity to see the work of many of the day’s most creative and successful photographers and listen to them speak about their careers was inspirational. These evenings led to lengthy discussions at the bars in Camden, which turned into late-night debates over technique, personalities, and aspirations. Ernst would entertain students until 2 am. He eventually bought a house in Rockport, installing a large deck in the back for no other purpose than to entertain.

Notes from my Yacht's Log of September 20, 1986:

Dreams come freely at sea, usually in the early morning watch,
trapped inside the short snatches of sleep. Ernst Haas paid me a
visit early this morning, just at pre-dawn. In my dream a group of
us were sitting around with Ernst as he was talking to us. His voice
was strong, his diction and accent unmistakable.

Ernst was telling us what was needed. He said that it was our job
to build a center, a place, not The Workshops, but another place
where people could come to look at, study, and discuss pictures.
“It should be open and not too defined, lest it be restrictive.
Its definition should come from the land.”

And it should be blue. Blue was Ernst’s color.

"There should be music, and pictures, and above all
poetry. There should be peace in this place, and good-natured
argument as well—but, no fighting, please. There should be cats
there, for where there is peace you will find cats. Build us
that place, David.”

He told me this and left. l awoke in a daze. The dream was so
profound that l was physically shaken. What you have just read I
wrote in my log book that morning, to re-read and ponder later, as
l did today. Three days later, in Bermuda, l discovered that Ernst
had had a stroke and had died near to the time of my mid-ocean dream.

(That same morning I finished the Bodhisattva vow Ernst had
given me a few days before our mutual departures—mine on a
sea voyage, his on the ultimate voyage)

The log entry continues:

l foresaw Ernst’s death. He saw it too.

Ernst left us two years later with his autobiography unwritten, things
unsaid and unresolved, mysteries unexplained, insights yet to be
shared. l spent four days alone at sea on my boat, sailing to Bermuda,
He visited me in my dreams during that trip — the vision of Ernst so
strong l could quote his voice and mimic his accent, repeating
verbatim what he told me about my mission.

One day Ernst, too, saw his end. He said to me: "There comes a time —
64 is a good year for this — when instead of looking ahead, one
must pause and look back. For the work ahead is to make some
sense of what one has done in life.”

Inge Bondi

Inge Bondi joined Magnum New York in 1950 and was mentored by Ernst Haas at Bob Capa's request. She became Secretary/Treasurer in 1954 and a rare non-photographer Magnum stockholder in 1957. Later, as Director of Special Projects she developed advertising, annual-report and exhibition activities for Magnum. She left in 1970.

She gave many talks, including one at the Art Institute of Chicago, about the exhibition “The World As Seen by Magnum Photographers,” designed and edited in 1959 by Ernst Haas while he was president of Magnum. In 1969 she started to publish articles on Magnum photographers, including, at Ernst's request, one about him in the “Classics of Photography” series in Modern Photography in July of that year.  

In 1972, she moved to Switzerland with her husband and continued writing as Consulting Editor of Printletter, publishing an article about Ernst Haas in the Swiss magazine Die Weltwoche (1976) and in the 1982 book  Contemporary Photographers. With Magnum founder George Rodger she is the co-author of a book by that title. She is also the author of the 1976 book  Chim — The Photographs of David Seymour.

An essay on Ernst Haas by Inge Bondi can be found on the Ernst Haas Estate website. She is currently working on a book about him.


"Within, is it not the world which puts the face on reality,
So we can see it finally with open eyes?
What is it about our vision, if it does not come from within?
Nothing, when it does not,
But yes, when it does
It would mean so much more than just seeing —
It would mean a dimension of feeling,
Important to make us really see and
Recognize the truth, which is eternal,
Because it is true.”

Letter from Ernst Haas to Robert Capa, 1949

“Please, let me listen to myself again,
Until the voice speaks again,
So hard to understand,
Like a long distance call.
Let me again be silent within me,
So I can hear
This feeble voice
l so long for
For so long,

From the Notebooks of Ernst Haas, undated.

Ernst Haas’ vision, his innovations, came from that inner voice, “so silent, lonely and shy," and all his professional life it was a fight to preserve that inner id, keeping it unsullied from the commercial world. It was that understanding of the inner voice that he did his best to implant into his students. It was this that made them say they could not tell what they had learned from him, but what they had learned was to look, to try to find each their own unique inner voice that would keep their work fresh, in spite of the demands of the commercial world.

Ernst Haas’ letter to Robert Capa, quoted above, was written after Ernst had, in his first year at Magnum, completed a string of assignments for the London Illustrated magazine and for some German publications. When he accepted Robert Capa’s invitation to join that unique international cooperative, he was aware that he would have to accept some assignments and that at that stage Magnum could not exist only on sales from the independently produced work of its photographers. Ernst had, by then, three years into his professional photography, realized that he was doing his most productive work when self-inspired. But for the sake of the company, including Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson in particular, he accepted the necessity of intermittent assignment work.

This assignment “ordeal," working to fulfill the needs of others, taught Ernst how to be a professional — a term he abhorred, for he aimed to be a poet, to work according to his own needs, not those of others. In his maturity, especially once he had a family to support, he knew that the money earned from assignments enabled him to pursue emotional needs with long-term projects, such as The Creation. His life was a continuous battle between the two kinds of work, and in the course of it, he surely wrote the second quotation above — he never dated his letters or sketchbook entries, in which he talked to himself, sometimes in poetry, sometimes in prose and sometimes with artwork. I met Ernst Haas when he first arrived in the US in 1951. I had been working at Magnum New‘York for a year and a half as a Secretary-Researcher. As we both spoke German and his English was poor, we gravitated toward working with each other. Only much, much later did I learn that on making Ernst Vice President USA of Magnum, one of the tasks given him by Bob Capa was to “take me in hand to teach me more about photography”.

When I left Magnum 20 years later, as Director for Special Projects, Ernst got me my first writing assignment, which was about him for an article in Modern Photography in the series "Classics of Photography.” I am currently working on a book on Ernst Haas — so far uncommitted — and in the course of that have translated many of his letters written to members of his family.

Ralph Nelson

Ralph Nelson is known primarily for his work as a still photographer in motion pictures. He was awarded the 2005 Publicist’s Guild Award for Excellence in Still Photography and in 2009 he received the Society of Camera Operators Lifetime Achievement Award for Outstanding Contributions as a Still Photographer.

A founding member of the Society of Motion Picture Still Photographers - SMPSP, he has served twice as its president and is now an Honorary Member. In December 2012, he published his first collection of personal work in a book titled  BOTANICA: iPhone Photos.

There is little doubt that each of us has fond memories of how Ernst helped to shape our lives. What may be less known is the effect his friends had on his. A prime example of the role his friends played is in his seminal work, The Creation, from conception to the cover and ultimately to the last pages.

It was his friend Michelangelo Durazzo who, when helping Ernst edit his photos,recognized the scope of the work and pointed out that it was a virtual photographic narrative of the Biblical Genesis. The stunning cover, a rich poetic image of the molten origins of Earth, was taken when visiting his friend, author Arthur Miller. The prosaic truth is that the primordial lava was, in reality, Miller’s abalone ashtray. The last two pages, depicting Adam and Eve barely visible in the Garden of Eden, were in fact his longtime friend and assistant Marina Filicori and her husband Mauro.

His dear friend Dick Rowan accompanied him as an assistant throughout most of the locations that appear in the book. We first met on the feature film Duel at Diablo  in 1965. On those few occasions when Dick was not available, I traveled with him as an assistant. Ernst did not drive, so working as his assistant mainly consisted of being his chauffeur.

Looking back, I think he allowed me to carry his camera bags and load cameras to make me feel more like a photographer’s assistant. He would have been just as happy carrying mine. He traveled with two open-top canvas book bags which held two or three bodies and lenses, each wrapped in a chamois cloth, whatever books he was reading at the time, and a stack of 5 x 7 black-and-white photos of his children Alexander and Victoria, photos which he would pull out and quietly gaze at for long periods of time, always calling them his “little creatures.”

I once asked a twofold question about his favorite book on photography and whose work had influenced him most. His recommended reading for photographers was The Poetics of Music  by Igor Stravinsky. An unexpected choice until I found that by transposing a few musical references to their visual equivalent, it was a perfect treatise on photography.

When I asked about the person who had most influenced his work, his immediate response was Francisco Goya. If asked about my influences, Goya and Stravinsky will be on the list, but at the very top — in a class by himself — is Ernst Haas. I also asked his opinion of death and think he simply said ”We cannot imagine.” Maybe I can’t imagine, but I can hope that when my time comes, I will get a chance to see him again — he might still need a chauffeur.
At top: "Route 66. Albuquerque, New Mexico 1969," by Ernst Haas. Above: Haas's obituary in the New York Times
All photographs ©The Estate of Ernst Haas/Getty Images, used with permission. Additional information about Ernst Haas, as well as licensing his images, are available at


  1. David Lyman commented on: September 13, 2016 at 2:34 p.m.
    Eric and David Schonauer, Editor Thanks for pulling this together. A very warm remembrance of Ernst, one I hope many will read and appreciate the impact this one man had on so many lives as well ass the profession and art itself. David Lyman

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