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19 July 2010

Ernst Haas, Rencontres d’Arles 2010

Ernst Haas was unquestionably one of the 20th century’s best-known photographers, but—paradoxically—one aspect of his personality has remained unknown. His name is usually associated with the vividly coloured images that the illustrated press fed on for decades: work which not only featured in the most influential European and American magazines, but also generated a steady flow of equally successful books.

For some time now, however, the pictures that brought him a worldwide reputation have been derided by critics and curators as ‘too commercial’: for some reason he has come to be seen as too feel-good, too sentim­ental. As a result his prestige has declined in relation to that of later practitioners of colour, and in particular William Eggleston, Stephen Shore and Joel Meyerowitz. In parallel with his commissions, though, Haas never stopped working in a more personal vein—for himself, you might say—and here we find a totally different kind of sensibility: these images are edgier, freer, more ambiguous—in other words much more radical. With very few exceptions they were never published or exhibited during his lifetime, perhaps because Haas feared incomprehension or a lack of appreciation. And yet these are works of great complexity and stand up very well against anything that came after them. This exhibition offers a selection.

William Ewing, exhibition curator.

Exhibition venue: cloître Saint-Trophime, Rencontres d’Arles 2010.