“For Haas, New York was both a place and a time,” writes the curator Phillip Prodger in Ernst Haas: New York in Color. Haas left Vienna—where, by 29, he’d already built a career in black-and-white photography—for New York City at the beginning of the 1950s. “Whenever I am free,” he would write in his 1975 monograph, “I wander around New York, trying to catch moments of its extreme dynamism.” With new beginnings came a new medium, perfect for capturing the city’s pulsing energy and undying motion: color.
This is the first book dedicated to Haas’s classic and newly discovered New York City color photographs of the 50s and 60s, significant not only for the role color plays in them—bright yellows, bold reds, and piercing blues are mainstays—but because of their innovation. In 1952, when the color television did not yet exist, Haas’s show at the Museum of Modern Art marked the institution’s first solo exhibition of color photography. A year later, a selection of his photos was published in “Images of a Magic City,” a lavish portfolio in Life magazine’s first-ever color issue.
The images in this book are curated by Haas’s son, Alex, who writes in the foreword, “Ernst would often compare New York to Venice—a beautiful city on the verge of crumbling.” Here we see the city racing toward doom, but never quite reaching it. —Julia Vitale