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A Salute to the Masters: Sunbathers (A Tribute to Ernst Haas)

This is an article about a great Austrian photojournalist who was also a pioneer and an innovator in color photography. In this article, I pay tribute to one of his most popular black and white photos, taken in Wien (Vienna) just after the end of World War II, and showing some sunbathing girls on a piece of greenery, set against the destroyed city on the background. Read more after the jump.

The Austrian artist Ernst Haas (1921–1986) was a photojournalist and a great pioneer in color photography who using Kodak Kodachrome film. He was a great master in experimental photography, especially in abstract light and form, and had some important study about motion. In 1958, he was listed by Popular Photography magazine as one of the greatest photographers of all time.

He was born in Wien, and his main interests in his youth were medicine and painting. Like Izis, he was a victim of the Nazi, and as a Hebrew, he had to leave his study in medicine because of the racial laws. He enrolled in the Graphic Arts Institute of Wien for a short period, and after this he began to work in a studio and teach photography at the Red Cross.

After World War II he abandoned his study in favor of photography. While his early works were experiments in light and form, in 1947 he became a staff photographer for the magazine Heute (“Today”), and from this he switched his interests from experimental photography to photojournalism.

His first reportage works were in black and white, and one of his famous photo was taken in Wien a few years after the end of the Second World War. Here you can see some girls and their sons taking a sunbath in a poorly maintained lawn. In the background you can see the destroyed buildings of his hometown. This photo was part of an exhibition at the American Red Cross headquarters dedicated to the destroyed Wien.

I’m not interested in experimental and abstract photography, so, to make a tribute to this great master, I chose some photos of sunbathers (in reference to his photo of Sunbathers in Wien), all taken in my city Como (except the last one), all in black and white, and of course, taken using an analog camera only!

Como has few pieces of greenery for a city of approximately 100,000 inhabitants, and swimming in its lake is not allowed (due to the high pollution of its water). Despite this, in the summer season, the public gardens and the little flowerbeds along the boulevards are used, from some years, for a healthy sunbath.

The habit of sunbathing in the public parks only goes back about twenty years ago. In fact, in Italy, there are still some ordinances enforced that date from the period of the fascist regime, prohibiting sunbathing in parks! But, from some decades, the local police has been turning a blind eye on this anarchistic law!

Photo by sirio174

However, some years ago, a zealous policeman has applied to the letter the law, imposing a fine of EUR 50 for each person found sunbathing on the lawn of the public gardens of my city! Following the link you can read the original article (in Italian language) on a local newspaper!

Paradoxically, those who were on the walls was saved, since the law only prohibits staying in the grass!

Photo by sirio174

I close this tribute with a picture taken in Como, but at the sea, in a camping of a Southern Italian region… the lying people have their view obstructed not by ruins (like in the Haas’s photo), but by people sitting in front of them!

Salute to the Masters is a series dedicated to great photographers that I like. I posted other tributes for Walker Evans, Lee Friedlander, Helen Levitt, Stephen Shore, Gabriele Basilico, Robert Adams, Thomas Struth, J.H. Lartigue, Elliott Erwitt, Robert Frank, Gianni Berengo Gardin and Izis. I especially love street photography and urban architectural photography.

written by sirio174

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