The Creation; Ernst Haas

I recently saw a discussion on one of the OCA forums where students were talking about some of the books they were trying to access and the cost of purchasing them second-hand and it stuck me that although I might want to come back to some of these books again and again, I actually wouldn’t know that until I had seen them so decided to give the public library a try.  A search on Ernst Haas revealed that there was one copy of ‘The Creation’ written by Haas and published in 1971, in the South West Region, in fact in Cheltenham.  I was not familiar with this book but decided to give it a go.

This is an amazing book and not at all what I expected.  The introduction talks about the tensions between the biblical and scientific versions of the creation and whilst acknowledging the logic and merit of the scientific version also recognises that it does not explain how the universe itself came into being.  The main part of the book starts with the opening verses of Genesis, ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth….’; it then goes on to represent the ‘Elements’, the ‘Seasons’ and the’ Creatures’ of the universe though a series of 106 magnificent colour photographs which Haas then discusses in notes at the end of the book.   These notes are personal, where, how and why he took the photographs  and why he chose them to represent a particular element or season, rather than anything very technical.  Although Haas briefly discusses the equipment used, his one piece of advice regarding equipment is that the photographer should learn to work with the minimum of equipment and that ‘the more you are able to forget your equipment, the more time you will have to concentrate on the subject and the composition.  The camera should become an extension of your eye, nothing else’. 

Black Wave, Ernst Haas, 1966

With regard to the photographs themselves, the things that stand out most for me are the colours, textures and movement, maybe movement more than anything.   Some of the images  were familiar to me such as  ‘Snow Lovers’ and ‘Black Wave’ although there were others that I hadn’t seen before, or at least had not taken notice of.

Drops on Coral, Ernst Haas, 1963

‘Drops on Coral’  was one such image where as Haas explained, the small puddles of water left in the crevasses of a coral after it had been washed by a wave resulted in a mosaic which reflected the beach and sky.

Wind Horses, Ernst Haas, 1960

Some some of the photographs chosen  for the ‘Creatures’ section really intrigued me, particularly in the way they show the movement of the beasts, birds etc.  Wild Horses is one, taken in late afternoon at 1/5 second and used to depict motion.

Flamingoes over Lake Huntington, Ernst Haas, 1970

Similarly this swarm of flamingos, it looks to me, more like bubbles of air rising up, rather than 3 million birds clustered along this shoreline.

As far as Ernst Haas himself is concerned, nothing I have read suggests he was particularly religious, but you get the impression from this, and some of his other work, Holy Underwear and Misty Heights for instance, that he was a deeply spiritual man, immensely moved by the world around him.  He describes this book, which was the most successful colour photography book of its time, selling 350,000 copies,  as representing a ‘sort of spiritual ecology, in praise of the earth which man inherited and should seek ardently to protect’.  This certainly is a book I would spend money on as the more I go through it, the more I see.

The Creation, Ernst Haas, first published in Great Britain in 1971 by Michael Joseph Ltd

Further information from:  Ernst Haas Estate; [accessed July 2011]


About Anne Bryson

I live in Gloucestershire with my husband Iain and West Highland Terrier, Isla. I enjoy golf, photography and my grandchildren, not necessarily in that order! Having completed a 10 week digital photography course with the Open University in 2010, I decided I wanted to take my photography further and enrolled for the Open College of the Arts BA (Hons) starting with 'The Art of Photography' which I enjoyed so much that I went gone on to do Digital Photographic Practice and People and Place. In April 2016 I enrolled on my fourth OCA photography course, Documentary. This blog is my Learning Log for this course.
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