Ernst Haas (1921-1986) was born in Vienna and was creative from an early age. His parents, who placed great value upon education and the arts, encouraged his creative pursuits from an early age. As a painter, he had particular interest in an artwork’s formal qualities, and developed a refined sense of composition and perspective.

From 1935 to 1938, Haas attended private school in Vienna, where he studied art, literature, poetry, philosophy, and science. His formal education was interrupted in 1938, when the school was closed following Germany’s invasion of Austria. Haas was sent to a German army labor camp, working six hours a day in exchange for two daily hours of school attendance.

After being able to return to Vienna to study medicine, he was forced out after only one year due to his Jewish ancestry. During this time, he grew more interested in photography, partly because it was the closest way to satisfy his two passions, exploring and painting. He wanted to travel and see the world, but keep his inspiration from the arts when he photographed.

Haas acquired his first camera in 1946, at the age of 25, trading 10 kilograms of margarine for a Rolleiflex on the Vienna black market. He spent time learning everything he could about the medium and got a job teach photography to soldiers, while working on documenting the aftermath of war in Vienna. From this work, he gained magazine assignments and features, including a photo essay of this work in Life magazine, titled “Homecoming.”

After several photography-related jobs, he was offered a position at Life, and his first feature article, “Returning Prisoners of War,” was published in both Heute and Life in 1949. This prompted Robert Capa to invite Haas to join the Magnum agency. The same year Haas purchased a Leica and began experimenting with colour photography, the medium in which his work is best known.

While his first few assignments cover European cities, like Vienna and London, he soon moved to New York City, where he lived the rest of his life.

In New York, he started photographing the streets with an approach more similar to paintings than his peers. His photos were sometimes soft with selective focus, or even blurred, to help give this impression. And while he continued to shoot in black and white, his main focus turned to colour film. He experimented in colour, which was not a respected medium at the time, while creating images that transformed life into visual poetry. City streets, window reflections, and abstract visions of the life around him were some of the things he was attracted to. He felt the vibrancy of colour best captured the excitement of the post-war boom present in America at that time.

While he had to keep up on commercial and photojournalistic work to make money, he spent his free time on his own work and passion. A Leica 35mm rangefinder became his camera of choice, along with saturated colours of Kodachrome film. He also used the dye transfer process on his film for richer colours.

His two-part photo essay on New York, Images of a Magic City, which appeared in LIFE in 1953 was both his and LIFE’s first long colour feature in print. Later, he also gave the first single-artist colour photography exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, explicitly subtitled “Color Photography” (1962).

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Haas worked in both black-and-white and colour, contributing to LIFE, Look, Vogue, and Holiday. While living in New York, he travelled often for photography and in 1959 became the 4th president of Magnum. In addition to his photojournalist work and personal exhibitions, he also worked in advertising photography and movie stills. He also participated in numerous group exhibitions at the MoMA, including The Family of Man (1955) and The Sense of Abstraction (1960).

Ernst Haas pioneered the use of colour photography at a time when it was considered inferior to black-and-white as a medium for serious creative photographers. His innovative use of the slow shutter speed, which gave many of his pictures the illusion of movement, and his emphasis on audiovisual presentations (works involving sound, poetry, and pictures) opened many possibilities in colour photography and in multimedia art.

Haas’s colour work, published in the most influential magazines and various books in Europe and America, earned him worldwide fame, but at the same time has often been derided by critics and curators as too easily accessible and not sufficiently “serious.” As a result, his reputation has suffered in comparison with a younger generation of colour photographers, like Eggleston, Shore and Meyerowitz.

In 2011 “Color Correction” was published in an attempt to revisit such criticism. The book focuses on the astonishing sensibility of Haas’s personal work in colour that constantly but almost invisibly accompanied his commissioned photography and was far more radical and ambiguous.