Ernst Haas was born in Vienna and began studying photography at the Graphische Lehr und Versuchsanstalt in Vienna six years before acquiring his first camera in 1946. 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 international cooperative founded by Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, George Rodger and Chim (David Seymour). Also in 1949, Haas purchased a Leica and began experimenting with color photography, the medium in which his work is best known. His "Magic Images of New York," a twenty-four-page color photo essay, which appeared in LIFE in 1951 was both his and LIFE's first long color feature in print. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Haas worked in both black-and-white and color, contributing to LIFE, Look, Vogue, and Holiday. He also worked as a still photographer for films, among them The Pharaohs, The Misfits, and Little Big Man. Haas served as president of Magnum in 1959-60, and as second director for The Bible (John Huston was first director) in 1966. The Creation (1971), a book of his photographs, eventually sold more than 300,000 copies.
Ernst Haas pioneered the use of color 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 color photography and in multimedia art. Although he is famous for his color photography, Haas's black-and-white images are among the most incisive, evocative, and beautiful images of postwar Europe and America, as was demonstrated in ICP's exhibition of his work in 1993.