Ernst Haas


Turquoise wave

I’ve been thinking lately about the whole business of being ‘influenced’ by other artists. Researching other photographers and putting our own work into that context is something that we’re supposed to do for our coursework. I’ve always found that a little bit strange – I mostly just do what I do without thinking about who else has done something similar first. Apart from helping us avoid the reinvention of the wheel, I’m not sure what the benefit to us is supposed to be. (And actually, even if we did reinvent the wheel photographically speaking, we’d almost certainly do it in a different way that had our own stamp on it – so it’s still worth doing.)

It might give us some inspiration, perhaps, or supply us with an idea that we could build on, or twist in some way to create something new.  The danger is, though, that it could also push our own ideas into the background or lead us to feel that we might as well not bother as someone else has done it better first.  It’s for these reasons that photographer Cole Thompson practices what he refers to as ‘photographic celibacy’ – he won’t look at anyone else’s work in case he’s influenced too much by it.  It’s a controversial approach and if you want to read what he has to say about it, you can find it in this interview (the bit about photographic abstinence comes right after the sixth image).

There are obviously situations where you have to relate your work to other photographers – for example, the assignment in which I attempted to produce work in the style of Ernst Haas involved a lot of research into Haas and some analysis of his work, followed by an attempt to see the world through his eyes. What struck me most while I was doing this was that the attempt didn’t involve much effort as I was already photographing ‘in the style of’ Haas before I even knew he existed – it’s what I’m drawn to doing anyway. (I’ll hurriedly add that I’m not claiming to be of the same standard – just that I see the world in a very similar way)

I took the picture at the top of this post years and years ago, before I’d even heard of Haas; compare it with After the Storm, by Ernst Haas, here: Not identical by any means, but there’s a similarity of approach.

Naturally, one of the reasons I chose Haas as my subject is that I love his photographs and his vision. While there are plenty of other people whose work I enjoy and who have very different ways of relating to the world, I knew it would be much harder for me to come close to working in their style. It might have been more interesting – it certainly would have been more challenging – and a part of me thinks it would have been very good for my learning to choose someone with a very different voice. However, I doubt I could have pulled it off very successfully because I’d have been working against my own style, and it would have been a lot more difficult for me and perhaps frustrating, too.

Oddly though, it’s just possible that if I had chosen someone very different to me, I could have ended up being more influenced by them than I am by someone whose work fits with what I’m doing anyway. Emulating Haas hasn’t made me change anything that I was already doing, but if I’d had to emulate someone very different, it might have given me cause to change some, at least, of what I usually do – and that would have been a very definite influence. Even if it hadn’t, it might have given me a better understanding of why I like to work in the way that I do, and that might have had a beneficial influence in its own way.

If anyone gives a list of their influences, you can always see elements of the work they do in the people they’re influenced by. My guess is that they’d have done work that was much like this anyway, and that their influences haven’t actually influenced them that much, although they may have encouraged or inspired them to continue on the same path (which I concede is also one kind of influence).  What you never see – well I haven’t, anyway – is someone claiming to be influenced by someone whose work is entirely different to theirs.  If you know of any examples, please post a link in the comments!

Loggerheads Park, Clwyd

Waymarker for Mold

One of the few advantages of neither of us being employed is that we can make the best of any good weather we get up here. We went to Loggerheads Park the other day, which is in the Clwydian mountains in Wales; it’s a stunningly beautiful place that did much to cheer us up.  The leaves are just beginning to turn and the woods were in that lovely state where the trees are still green but there’s autumnal colour on the ground.  It was the first time in ages – I can’t even remember how long – that I got really into the flow and experienced the buzz from photography that I used to feel and have been missing.

I started out with some general shots, but what I most wanted to do was to expand on my Ernst Haas project on the elements, and try to capture something of the essence of fast moving water.  I also wanted to make a start on getting some shots that would represent air.  Most of the shots I took were not quite right in some way or another, but make a good starting point for a way forwards on this.  My biggest problem was composition, as there were many places where I couldn’t get the angle of view I wanted, and it was also quite difficult to see what I was shooting sometimes because of the contrasts of bright sunlight and shadow.

Mossy boulders

Clwydian hills

The beginnings of the water shots.  I quite like this one, but I think the boulder needs to be clearer.  A polarising filter would have helped but I definitely wouldn’t have been able to handhold if I’d used one.

Water and rock

I like the colours here but I don’t think there’s much else to mark it out.

Rock with leaves

This is getting much closer to what I want.  Unfortunately I think the composition could be a lot better, but I do like the soft effect of the moving water with a slow shutter speed.

Soft water

The composition is better in this one, but I feel the contrast is a bit strong and I don’t like those linear shadows on the right-hand side.


I’d have been very pleased with this one had I just got that top wave a bit more into the frame.  Otherwise, it’s close to what I was trying to achieve.

Ripples in sunlight

This one is probably my most successful shot of the day, and I’m really happy with how the sunlight has picked out the central wave.

Sunlit river

I’m also quite happy with this one, which will start me off on the ‘air’ section of the elements project.

Clwydian sky

The one that got away

Mud landscape

Wouldn’t you know it! – I took this photo a long, long time ago, way before I was working on my ‘earth and water’ assignment.  I was scratching around for another image to replace number 10 with and remembered I’d taken this one, but couldn’t find it however much I searched because of the general disarray of my hard-drives.  Today, of course, I come across it while I’m looking for something else.  And it would have been perfect……sigh.

Water and earth – feedback for Ernst Haas assignment

Especially for those of you who helped me with my decisions on my last assignment, here’s the final line-up – in the order in which it went in. Feedback from tutor coming up in a moment…….



Red and green

Blue and gold



Rock landscape






I was pretty pleased with this in the end, although I had one or two doubts that were confirmed by the tutor feedback.  The image third from the end was put in as a filler – I didn’t have an alternative and so it had to go in.  I felt it was a bit similar to the one after it, and not as interesting, and that’s exactly what I got back in terms of tutor comments.  The other one I wasn’t sure about was the blurred leaves (second from top); I like it a lot, but I think maybe a slightly quicker shutter speed would have held a little more sharpness and made it better.  My tutor admitted that it fitted well in the sequence, but he thought it was too blurred.  Before I put these in for assessment I can make changes if I want to, and I’ll almost certainly change number ten for something that gives more variety.  However, I’m going to keep number two, because despite its faults I like it, it fits in well, and I think the blurriness is compensated for to some extent by the light and the colour.

I spent a lot of time on the sequencing, spreading the prints out all over my study floor and moving them about till the order made sense.  In the end, I decided to start with an earth/water combination, move onto the water shots, then to the earth shots, and finish with another earth/water combo to bring it full circle.  I also did my best to make some colour link between them, although it wasn’t always possible.  My tutor thought the sequencing worked well.

In some ways this was an easy assignment for me. Anyone who’s been reading this for any length of time will know that I’m an ardent fan of Ernst Haas, and some of that’s because my own style of photography is quite similar (if not quite up to the same standard!).  This made it easy for me to put myself into an Ernst Haas kind of mindset and produce something in that vein, although it was a lot more difficult to find the raw material for the images.  I think it would have been much more of a challenge for me to take on someone whose style was very, very different to my own, and in some ways I regret not doing that because I would have learned a lot.  But the last year has been hard enough without deliberately making things difficult for myself, and I think I have plenty of excuse for taking the easier option.  I also wouldn’t have enjoyed it nearly as much, and it’s been a pleasure to go round pretending I’m channeling Ernst.  I’m quite proud of the results and might go on adding to these over time, particularly if I take the exploration into fire and air as well.


Ernst Haas assignment – water and earth

Yikes! – eight days to go before the cutoff date for my assignment (and my course) and I haven’t even made a decision about what to include, never mind organising the prints.  I’m usually pretty good at getting things done on time, but this one has crept up on me.  I’m going to get prints made of all the possibles, and then make the final decision when they arrive (and just hope and pray that none of them need rejigging).  This is the almost final line-up, although there are a couple I’m still working on as well.  I’d be very grateful for opinions, suggestions – any kind of feedback at all.  I’ll number them for ease of reference, and just to refresh your memory, I need to produce twelve images in the style of Ernst Haas, and on the theme of the elements water and earth.  I’ve put the water ones first and the earth second, although a lot of them contain both water and earth.  I’ve also included some of my thoughts about each one.

#1 I’m quite pleased with this one, but wonder if it needs warming up more, or more contrast.

Sunlit water

#2 This one is another favourite that I feel captures the Ernst Haas aesthetic; I’m just a little concerned that there isn’t a definite enough area of sharpness.


#3 This seems very ‘watery’ to me, and I love the colours.  I just wonder if I’m getting carried away with the colours – does it work compositionally?

Blue and gold

#4  This one plays with scale a bit, which I haven’t done much with the watery ones.


#5  I like the colours here, and it’s definitely in the Ernst Haas tradition.  However the others are close-ups and this one isn’t.


#6  This is my favourite of the lot, and is definitely going in.


#7  Too many images of colour reflected on water?

Red and green



#9  I’ve got several of this curvy mud stream; the others have no water in them, and I don’t think they work quite so well.  With all the mud images, I’m not sure how much to warm them up – these strike me as a bit cool.

Mud and water

#10  I’ve got two versions of this; the first is better balanced in terms of contrast, etc and I think the second is a bit dark but I like the way the light is falling on it and emphasising the depth.

River valley


#11  This is a bit of a wild card.  I know my tutor will hate it because he hates anything high contrast, but I think it might have something, and Ernst used a lot of high contrast so it’s in keeping.


#12  A little bit boring, maybe?


#13  Only one of the following two can go in; I know which one I prefer, but I’m not saying at the moment!

Rock landscape 2


Rock landscape 2

All help and opinions gratefully received…….I can’t think straight about it all right now.


Mud, glorious mud

Mud pattern 1

I’m getting every so slightly panicky now; my final course assignment is due in before the end of May, and I’ve been feeling so apathetic and uninspired about my photography recently that I’ve done very little about it.  I’m supposed to be emulating the work of Ernst Haas – in particular his treatment of the elements from his book The Creation.  After getting some advice from my tutor, I’ve decided to narrow it down to water and earth, or possibly even just water.  At the moment I’m working on the assumption that I’ll be doing both and I’m looking for photos for each.  I’ve got quite a few for water already – although I do need some of a different type – but I’ve been lagging behind on the earth front.

I met up with my lovely friend Eileen on Saturday in Liverpool, and as we left the Tate Gallery down by the docks, we noticed the tide was out and the river banks had some wonderful mud patterns carved into them.  ‘What about that for earth?’, said Eileen, and so I got down to photographing them.  One of Haas’ trademarks was to play with scale by using abstraction, and in these photos I’ve tried to do that – is this a huge landscape or just some runnels in the mud?  The shapes that water leaves in mud have always fascinated me but if you’d told me years ago that I’d happily spend time taking pictures of mud, I’d have thought you were crazy.  Now I think it’s probably me who is – but in a good way.

Mud pattern 2


River valley

Confluence 2

This one is a little strange, and I’m not too sure about it yet.  Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t.


And I was playing about with this one, and solarised it for fun, then decided I rather like it this way. It’s like some weird lunar landscape – apart from the bird.  You had noticed the bird, hadn’t you?

Solarised mud

Ness Gardens – capturing water

Waterfall, Ness Gardens

Some more photos from Ness Gardens. I went there thinking I might be able to get some shots that would work for my current assignment.  I’m working on a set of 12 photos that emulate the style of Ernst Haas, and I wanted to concentrate on the kind of work he did for his book The Creation.  This was an ambitious attempt to tell the biblical creation story in pictures, and is divided into three parts: the elements, the seasons, and the creatures.  In order to narrow it down a bit, I thought I’d stick to the section on the elements and was even thinking that I might just do water and forget about earth, air and fire (I feel I might have particular trouble with the fire element as, unlike Haas, I don’t have access to many volcanoes).  I’m not at all sure about this and it will probably depend on what I manage to achieve image-wise.  The idea is to capture the essence and feeling of that element, as it might have been as the earth was being formed, so  man-made intrusions aren’t welcome.  As you can see, all except possibly the last one fail on these grounds, but my close-up images of the water itself simply didn’t work.

Haas wasn’t a great one for realism, preferring to use an abstract approach that expressed his feeling about the subject matter.  I already have a small number of shots that I’m happy with and think will work for my assignment – you can see one of these previous attempts at capturing the water element here.

Waterfall, Ness Gardens

Waterfall, Ness Gardens

Waterfall, Ness Gardens

There’s something about the combination of reflections in water with things floating on its surface that I find intriguing.  These two shots are much closer in spirit to what I want to achieve, but unfortunately don’t make the grade either, as they’re not really saying ‘water’ and aren’t close enough to Haas’ style.

Water and sky, Ness Gardens

Tree reflections, Ness Gardens

I really like the richness of colour in this one, although it reminds me more of Eliot Porter than Ernst Haas:


And I love the light in this shot, and that red leaf, although it’s not at all what I’m trying to do for my assignment.

Pool, Ness Gardens

Anyway, I did at least acquire another two shots for my ‘Fallen’ series (if you missed my posts about it, see here and here).  I’m not too happy with the amount of contrast in the first one – I think it’s a bit harsh, and actually the more I look at it, the less I like it and I think it might end up being trashed.  I’m much happier with the second one – I like the way the light is falling in this one.  I added a small amount of vignetting to hold the attention on the leaf.


Fallen leaf

Homage to Haas


It always amazes me what you can do with Photoshop.  I’m in a bit of an Ernst Haas phase at the moment as I have to create a collection of images in his style for a course assignment which is coming up soon.  I’m planning to base this on his book The Creation, in particular the section of it that deals with the four elements.

I saw this pattern of ripples and sunlight on the bed of a stream, and thought I might be able to make something of it. This is the Haas image I was thinking of at the time; I couldn’t find a link to it online so I’ve scanned it in from my copy of the book.  It’s not a great scan, so you have to use your imagination a bit.  I also wasn’t aiming to replicate it, but just to use it as inspiration for my own version.


Ernst Haas: from The Creation

And the next photo is my original: as you can see, it’s a little dull.  Using Curves made the biggest difference, bringing out the rich blue colour and emphasising the shadows and highlights.  Then I cloned out the little stones underwater and the piece of grass floating in it, as I thought they were distracting.  I then duplicated the layer, using Soft Light blending mode, turned that down a little by increasing transparency, and used a touch of dodging to bring out the highlights.  Et voila! – quite a difference.

Original, Ripples


How much do you love photography?


Could anything stop you shooting?

I’m doing a bit of research into Ernst Haas at the moment for a course essay I have to write, and I’ve been reading through some quotes from him, like this one:

Ask yourself about the source of your artistic longings. Why is it so necessary that you want to do your thing? How strong is it? Would you do it if it were forbidden? Illegal, punishable? Every work of art has its necessity, find out your very own. Ask yourself if you would do it if nobody would ever see it, if you would never be compensated for it, if nobody ever wanted it. If you come to a clear ‘yes’ in spite of it, then go ahead and don’t doubt it anymore.”

Whew! This made me think a bit. I’ve always said photography is necessary to me in a very fundamental way, but I’ve never asked myself these sorts of questions.

Would I take photos if it were forbidden, illegal, punishable? I’m really not very brave in that sense, so to tell the truth I’d probably find another outlet for my creativity that didn’t put me in that position. The fact that it was illegal or forbidden wouldn’t stop me if I knew for sure I wouldn’t be caught, but I don’t think I’d risk my life, or even punishment, for it.

But there are many, many people who have risked their lives for photography. I know of two photographers, Henryk Ross and Mendel Grossman, both of whom lived in the Jewish ghetto in Lodz during the Nazi regime and who daily risked severe punishment or death in order to record the inhumanities that were taking place there. (You can find their stories on the links above.) And in more contemporary times, Tim Hetherington was recently killed in Libya while working there as a photojournalist – just one of many photographers who have died in war zones over the years. It seems to me, though, that the documentation of events or the message they wanted to communicate was as important – probably more so – than the act of photography itself. Photography happened to be their chosen medium for this, but I don’t think they’d have risked their lives to take flower macros.

I think a couple of Haas’ other questions are more telling. ‘Why is it so necessary that you want to do your thing?’ It’s tempting here to start a long biographical rambling about how I came to photography, but I’ll try and spare you by keeping it to essentials. Briefly, I was very creative as a young child but I was discouraged from exploring this and by my early teens I had stopped drawing, painting, writing, and most other things. What didn’t stop was the yearning to create, and as a grown-up I looked for many years for some way of fulfilling it. I dabbled in a lot of different things but it was only when I came to photography that I felt I’d found what I’d been looking for all those years. One reason for this is that I actually had some talent for it – something that I was dismally lacking in other media. All the same, if something were to happen that stopped me taking photographs, I know I’d find some other, satisfying, way of being creative. Photography does feel very necessary to me, and I’m passionate about it, but mainly because it fulfills a more basic need of giving me an outlet in which to express myself and I know there are other things that could do the same. I love writing as much as I love photography, for example, although it doesn’t satisfy the part of me that needs to create something visual. What is over-poweringly strong is the need to create, even if it’s only satisfied by cooking or putting interesting clothes colour combinations together.

Would I do it if nobody ever saw it, or I wasn’t compensated for it, or nobody wanted it? Well I can answer the middle one with certainty – I’m only minimally compensated for it and I still do it! The other two are more difficult. I know it’s important to me that I share what I do with other people, and of course I love it – who wouldn’t? – when people say they like my pictures. There’s no doubt it helps to keep me motivated, and I’d only see that as a problem if I stopped doing what I liked and started trying to please everyone else.

But there’s more to it than that. Knowing my images will be viewed and sometimes enjoyed, gives me a purpose for taking them – otherwise they would just languish sadly on my hard drive. I’ve always wanted what I create or learn to be for other people too; I doubt many of us could produce into a void for very long. I also believe that photos should be viewed and enjoyed. I find it really sad when I read about someone like Vivian Maier, who took such wonderful photos but which were never seen by anyone until after she died.  (Now, there was someone who took photos without caring if they were ever viewed.)

I’m really not sure how I’d feel if no-one saw or wanted my photos. It would certainly be less rewarding, but I think I might still do it. Recently I came across some bits of writing I did many years ago, including some poetry. No-one has ever seen these except me, but I wrote them to express myself at a time when I needed to externalize what was going on inside me. It doesn’t bother me that no-one is likely ever to see these, so it may be that I’d feel the same way about my photos. I can’t be sure. Even so, these bits of writing only happened sporadically, and I sense I’d have written more, and more often, if they’d had some kind of purpose outside of myself. I think it would be the same with photography.

It’s an interesting question because art history is strewn with artists who weren’t accepted in their time and whose work few people wanted – the obvious one is Van Gogh, and he kept going regardless, though I wonder if he would/could have done without the brother who so totally believed in him. Even an enthusiastic audience of one can be enough to make it worthwhile. Although art is about self-expression, I think it’s also about communication and communication requires an audience.

I think what comes through to me clearly is that photography is my strongly preferred choice when it comes to visual self-expression and being creative, but that if I didn’t have it for some reason, then I’d find another outlet. Would it give me the same pleasure? I really don’t know, but I think it could.

Although I’m a huge fan of Haas, I think he might be coming on a little strong here; as far as I know he was never in a situation where photography was life or death, and he was successful with his photography at a very early stage, with many public accolades and prizes awarded to him. He never had to encounter these questions in reality, and I wonder how he would have reacted if he had.