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Jens Haas

JENS HAAS

Color White Gray Other

COLOR WHITE GRAY OTHER


First published in 2009 Printed in the United States Copyright 2009 Jens Haas Photography, concept and design by Jens Haas jenshaas.com Essay by Stephen Mayes Excerpts from Dr. Hare’s letters Notes From Nowhere jenshaas.com/blog All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, scanning, recording or otherwise, without prior written permission of Jens Haas.


Color White Gray Other: Jens Haas 1999 - 2009


I Am What I See An essay by Stephen Mayes Jens Haas’ starkly descriptive photographs bring us the world in crisply defined rectangles of sharp color: pure reds, greens, yellows, and blues. It’s a Pantone world of simple imperatives where color, space, texture,

pattern, and gesture deliver the infinite variety of life in tightly controlled packages of seemingly random elements, tamed and restrained in the rigid confines of the photographic frame.

This is the world captured, contained, and controlled by a

disciplined eye in search of structure and a curious mind in search of

meaning. These are the building blocks that Haas uses to construct a new description of reality, but not as a narrative for there is no beginning, middle, or end.

The random sequences of unrelated elements at first look like

nothing more than an exercise in color and form: a fish, a pigeon, a

woman, a piece of cracked concrete… But take a step back and distance the detail, allow the images to speak not as self-contained descriptions,

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but as components of a greater whole, and something else emerges. Just as bricks are beautiful

but a building is judged by its composite effect,

so Haas’ colorful components combine to make white, and many fantastical shades of gray.

Nietzsche famously observed that sci-

ence explains nothing but is merely a descrip-

tion of unexplainable things in familiar terms. So Haas’ imagination presents these banal

objects of recognition stitched into a rich fabric that hints of deeper experience. So many of the

objects in these pictures are manufactured or de-

scribe the condition of life in a man-made world, and yet however controlled in their origins these constructed entities have escaped their makers’ hands and carry scars of independent life.

Although rigidly descriptive, stripped of

extraneous detail and lacking ambiguity these photographed objects swim in a fluid context,

made fascinating by the circumstance of their

location and history, acquiring meaning in their journey from one place to another and through time. And in this Zen meditation on concrete

objects in abstracted context we find the photographer himself, dislocated from his native

land, battered, baffled and bemused by the new

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environment in which he finds himself. He is, we dis-

cover, much the same person as he has always been but different because of his new context, roughened by the

journey yet refreshed and invigorated by the discoveries made along the way.

The control that is so evident in the imagery

becomes a metaphor in its own right; in wrestling the

random elements of the world into the ordered building

blocks of his autobiography, Haas is asserting command

of his own life. Literal language creeps in to complement the literal representations: directive and instructional,

“Do,” “Use,” “Obey” express a desire for certainty and structure in a haphazard existence, counter-pointed by

the random absurdity of “Peanut Butter” and “30 Dozen Eggs.” Nothing is as certain as we might like it to be.

“When I see a bird that walks like a duck and

swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck.” said James Whitcomb Riley. Haas’ duck sits in the midst of once-ordered traffic cones now strewn by

some other hand, a piece of fruit lost and alone on a sea of cement and only three frames away from a tide of blood. What sort of duck dream is this?

In his foreword to Winogrand’s “Figments from

the Real World,” John Szarkowski mused about “a fascination with the difference between photographs and the

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world they describe, and in the possibility that the former may nevertheless, if good enough, tell us something about the latter.” And in a very strange way, Haas’ world of symbols and metaphors tell us nothing and everything.

“I see nobody on the road,” said Alice. “I only wish I had such eyes,”

the King remarked in a fretful tone. “To be able to see Nobody! And at that distance too!”

Look too hard at these pictures and you’ll see nobody. Look a little

less hard and you’ll see a person, a little fuzzy in detail but clearly defined in outline: serious and witty, questioning and asserting, a dreamer and a realist.

A traveler and a settler.

Stephen Mayes has been exploring photography in culture for thirty years, working closely with some of the most influential photographers and artists in photojournalism, fashion, art, and commerce. He is currently living in New York City, and is the Director of VII Photo Agency. 9


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“My sense is that it would be helpful if we could meet for actual sessions more regularly, rather than corresponding in this somewhat erratic fashion.�

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“Am I a source of creative material for you, or a person whose ideas you value?”

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“I keep finding your dreams remarkably realistic, and if I hadn’t heard you tell me similar dreams before, I would wonder whether you are making this up.”

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“For how can anyone consider coming to this country for good if there is no prospect of love?�

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“The subject of American women tends to come up with all my patients from overseas.”

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“I am not sure whether you are being completely frank with me.�

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“Go and spend some time with American women, and you shall come to appreciate one of the deepest truths ever - that we love what we know.�

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“You are right, I cannot come to your apartment.”

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“It strikes me that you are aiming for something that's almost impossible: to grow sufficiently into a new culture in order to be able to feel at home, and to still look at it from a distance.�

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“You must learn to leave behind the idea that the world should be better than it is.�

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“Clarity will not come from therapeutic conversations. It will have to be an artistic process.�

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“It may be best if we both pretended that you never mentioned this plan.�

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JENSHAAS.COM

Color White Gray Other  

“Color White Gray Other” is about life between Berlin, New York City, and beyond, about the experiences of leaving one's home, and exploring...