Wien Museum Catalogue “Robert Haas. Framing Two Worlds.”

Page 1

Robert Haas

Framing Two Worlds

Robert Haas

Framing Two Worlds

Robert Haas

Framing Two Worlds Editors: Anton Holzer, Frauke Kreutler Authors: Anton Holzer, Frauke Kreutler, Ursula Storch


Matti Bunzl



Anton Holzer, Frauke Kreutler



Anton Holzer


Artist with Camera Robert Haas: A Photographer between Vienna and New York

Frauke Kreutler

139 The New World in Focus

Robert Haas and His Photographic Milieu in the United States

Ursula Storch

165 »… an esteemed man of letters …«

Robert Haas as Graphic Designer, Calligrapher, and Printer

180 Robert Haas´s Itinerary 182 List of Works in the Exhibition 194 Select Bibliography 196 Index 198 Acknowledgments 199 Authors, Photo Credits, Lenders 200 Imprint


The cultural history of Vienna is a history of magnificent art, music, and achievements. It is also a history of loss. The fundamental rupture of the twentieth century – the Shoah – has left a wound that can never heal. Many forms of Viennese culture, from Billy Wilder's Hollywood films to Karl Popper's philosophy, could only originate in the diaspora. The work of Robert Haas is part of this violently transplanted Viennese culture. A leading photographer and graphic artist of the interwar years, he was forced into exile by the Nazi terror that swept Austria in 1938. Arriving in the United States in 1939, he continued his creative work, eventually finding success as a graphic artist and printer of handmade books. He maintained his interest in photography, but it would no longer form part of his professional identity. This constituted a double loss: not only the extinguishing of Haas’s exciting artistic career in Vienna, but also his gradual abandonment of the medium of photography. We are thus all the more grateful to Miriam Haas and Cathy Haas Riley, Robert Haas’s daughters, for enabling us to attempt to make good the loss. Their decision to entrust their father’s photography archive to the Wien Museum cannot, of course, fill the void created in the 1930s, but it can still serve as a bridge between Vienna and New York, between Austria and the United States. Containing works from the Old and New World alike, the archive is both an artistic document and a testimony to the violent globalization of Viennese culture in the twentieth century. Some of this culture managed to survive in the United States, turning a place like New York into a focal point of Viennese intellectual history. Credit for Robert Haas’s return to Austria is due, above all, to the photography historian Anton Holzer. Holzer discovered the archive while working on the Wien Museum exhibition about the Austrian studio photographer Trude Fleischmann, who, like Haas, continued her artistic career in New York. Holzer was assisted in both cases by his fellow researcher and curator, Frauke Kreutler. The results speak for themselves, fundamentally enriching the cultural and photographic history of Vienna and Austria. Even more profoundly, the exhibition demonstrates the extent to which the political conflict and the productive aesthetic tensions between Europe and America shaped the careers of exiled photographers. We are particularly grateful to the Botstiber Institute for Austrian-American Studies for its energetic support. The cultural history of Vienna is still a history of loss, but the exhibition Robert Haas: Framing Two Worlds makes this loss tangible. It certainly cannot right the wrong, but it might still serve as a kind of restitution, if only partially. Matti Bunzl, Director, Wien Museum



Anton Holzer, Frauke Kreutler


Robert Haas is doubtless among the great Austrian-American photographers of the twentieth century. His work extends from social commentary and touching portrayals of everyday life in interwar Vienna to fascinating images of the American way of life, and from sensitive portraits of great artists to street photography in New York. His photographic oeuvre encompasses many themes, and his camera lens synthesizes his unique view of two continents. Haas’s impressive body of work has never been shown before in a comprehensive exhibition, neither in the United States nor in Europe. This is surprising and requires an explanation. Not to put too fine a point on it, Robert Haas’s photographs have fallen into oblivion on both sides of the Atlantic. As a Jewish émigré and versatile artist active across a variety of media, Haas fell between the cracks, suspended, as it were, between different worlds. For decades after he fled the Nazi regime in 1938, no one in Austria and Europe paid much heed to this great photographer and artist.1 In the United States, he was known primarily as a printer and graphic designer and hardly at all as a photographer.2 Now, twenty years after his death, visitors to the Wien Museum can rediscover Haas’s outstanding photographic oeuvre in a comprehensive exhibition that relates fascinating aspects of Austrian-American photographic and cultural history. Together with the essays in the catalogue, many hitherto unseen vintage prints place his photographs in the artistic and social context of their time. Haas’s rediscovery as a photographer would not have been possible without the assistance of the Haas family, particularly his two daughters, Miriam Haas and Cathy Haas Riley. They preserved their father’s artistic legacy, entrust­ ing it to Wien Museum in the fall of 2015. In the following months, a team of researchers categorized, archived, and digitized the pictures in order to make them accessible to the public. Miriam Haas and Cathy Haas Riley also provided the museum with their father’s extensive correspondence, along with a series of interviews they had conducted with him about his life and work. Both the correspondence and the tape-recorded interviews have proved invaluable as source material for the research presented here.


Robert Haas: At the Agriculture Fair in Ödenburg (Sopron), 1937 [Wien Museum]

Born in Vienna in 1898, Robert Haas began his artistic career as a graphic designer and printer in the Viennese Modernist circles of the 1920s. He founded Officina Vindobonensis with Carry Hauser and Fritz Siegel in 1925, an artistic atelier and print shop where he produced elaborately designed books, posters, and other graphic designs. After studying with the well-known Viennese studio photo­grapher Trude Fleischmann, he concentrated on photography in the 1930s and quickly established himself as an internationally successful photojournalist. He was renowned for his impressive images and photo reportages, which were published in numerous illustrated newspapers and magazines. Haas was no mere roving reporter chasing after the latest scoops. Rather, he was an attentive flâneur who traversed the Viennese metropolis and the Austrian countryside, always on the lookout for the poetry of everyday life. He enjoyed success with portraits of celebrities and events such as the Salzburg Festival, which he documented in detail in the mid-1930s. Haas was never a society photographer but preferred to stay behind the scenes with his camera, casting an inquisitive glance at life beyond the spotlights. Haas was at the highpoint of his career as a photographer when he was forced to flee from the Nazi regime in 1938. He arrived in New York via London, where he settled in 1939. As one of the few Austrian photographers forced to flee, he managed, nonetheless, to take his entire archive with him, including thousands of prints and negatives as well as his complete working correspondence. In New York, he continued to work as a photographer but was unable to establish himself as a photojournalist. Instead, just as in his early Viennese days, Haas turned to printing and graphic art, founding the art-oriented Ram Press in 1941. Over the span of several successful years, he worked with institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Frick Collection. Apart from his »main profession« as printer and graphic designer, Haas also produced a vivid body of photographic work documenting everyday life in 1940s and 1950s America. Influenced by innovative American photographic trends such as the photo campaigns of the Farm Security Administration and street photography, he adapted his photographic vocabulary to the New World, producing images that


bear comparison with those of the most well-known American photographers of the time. His portfolio included travel, landscape, and architectural photography, along with urban and street scenes from his new home in New York City. Haas also continued making portraits of artists, just as he had done in Austria. A number of the artists Haas photographed were émigrés like himself. Albert Einstein, Arturo Toscanini, Oskar Kokoschka, and Paul Robeson were among the most prominent figures who sat for Haas. If Haas’s street scenes and depictions of everyday life were »American« through and through, his portrait photography still retained traces of Vienna, serving as a metaphorical bridge between the Old and New Worlds.

Robert Haas: Scene from everyday life in rural America, United States, 1940s [Wien Museum]

In both a biographical and an aesthetic sense, Haas’s photographic work is deeply marked by the caesura of 1938-1939. While escape and persecution are inscribed in his life’s work, his oeuvre also reflects the new start and opportunities presented to him as an émigré in his new home. The exhibition and catalogue attempt to reconstruct both sides of the artist’s life, quite literally framing two worlds.

Notes 1 The first and only exhibition of the works of Robert Haas in Austria took place in 1983 at the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts (now MAK) in Vienna, concentrating on his graphic and print works with only a few photographs. See Robert Haas: Schrift, Druck, Photographie, with an introduction by Hanna Egger, exh. cat., Österreichisches Museum für angewandte Kunst (Vienna, 1983). 2 In 1984, Haas’s graphic prints and selected photographs were shown on the initiative of James Fraser at the Fairleigh

Dickinson University in New Jersey. See James Fraser (ed.), Robert Haas: Printing, Calligraphy, Photography (Fairleigh Dickinson University, 1984), reviewed in the New York Times on June 3, 1984. A small exhibition of Haas’s work also took place in 1984 in the library of the New York City College of Technology in Brooklyn. On the invitation, Haas was described as a »printer and calligrapher,« but not as a photographer. Finally, in 1985, graphic works and some photographs by Haas were shown at San Francisco Public Library.


anton Holzer

Artist with Camera robert Haas: a Photographer between Vienna and new York

The photographic career of Robert Haas (1898–1997) could not have had a more dynamic start. After beginning his artistic career as a graphic designer and printer, he turned to photography in the early 1930s. Within a very short time he became an excellent photojournalist whose pictures quickly won him international acclaim. His photographic oeuvre is extensive, diverse in terms of subject matter, and multifaceted in its aesthetic spectrum. His repertoire includes sensitive portraits and everyday scenes but also striking urban and social reportages, industrial and architectural photographs, advertising photos, travel images, and landscapes. His repertoire represents a measured attempt to bring together the various strands of the modernist legacy that influenced his work throughout his lifetime. Haas’s beginnings as an artist were inspired by the ideas of the avant-garde, whose protagonists he had known well since the 1920s. In the following decade he developed into an outstanding exponent of modern photojournalism, attracting attention with his subtly structured photo reportages. Haas’s style took a decisive turn after his arrival in the United States. From the 1940s, he composed fascinating photographs of everyday life and compelling urban and travel pictures on par with those of the great American photographers of his time.1 In the mid-1930s, Haas was at the zenith of his career as a photographer in Austria. In 1937, he was commissioned to design a large-format photo panorama for the Austrian pavilion at the Paris Exposition. This work brought him much acclaim and recognition, but he was unable to enjoy the limelight for long. A year later, after Austria’s annexation to Nazi Germany in 1938, he lost his job and source of revenue practically overnight. He left Vienna on September 30, 1938, for Britain and ultimately the United States, where he managed to carve out a new career for himself. He attempted, initially, to continue with photography, but later worked with great success as a printer and typographer in New York. The life and works of Robert Haas thus fall into two separate phases, the Vienna period until 1938, and the New York period after 1939.

P. 12: Robert Haas: Self-portrait with Rolleiflex, Vienna, 1935 (print from negative)


The Paris Exposition of 1937 Fig. 1. Julius Scherb: View of the Austrian pavilion’s interior, Paris Exposition of 1937 [Wien Museum]

The monumental photomontage created by Haas in 1937 for the Austrian pavilion at the Paris Exposition (Exposition internationale des artes et techniques dans la vie moderne) has special significance within his photographic oeuvre (fig. 1). From a technical point of view alone, this work surpassed conventional standards. Measuring 8.66 meters in height and 30.25 meters in length, the photo frieze was the largest photomontage that had ever been undertaken at the time. That said, large-scale photo­ graphic settings were not completely new. A landscape photomontage had already been displayed previously (albeit on a smaller scale) in the Swiss pavilion at the international exhibition in Liège in 1930 and at the World’s Fair in Brussels in 1935.2 In an unconventional move, Haas did not use his own photos when producing the montage. More­ over, the commission came from the Austrian government. As such, the entire Paris exhibition project casts an interesting light on the political context in 1930s Austria. It was financed and organized by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Trade and Transport, which took advantage of the enormous international attention that the Paris Exposition attracted to promote the image of Austria and its tourism industry. Between May 25 and November 25, 1937, no fewer than 34 million people visited the exhibition. Haas obtained the commission for the photomontage from Oswald Haerdtl, the architect responsible for the Austrian pavilion, and the two worked together closely on its completion.3 The Grossglockner High


Alpine Road is at the center of the mural, with the Packstrasse to the left, and the Gesäusestrasse to the right. In particular, the Grossglockner High Alpine Road, which opened to traffic in 1936, served as a visual showcase for both the Christian Social government and the national tourism industry. Haas’s montage of an idealized landscape symbolized a blissful Austrian tourist paradise both anti-urban and patriotic. Haas completed the montage in the spring of 1937 under intense time constraints. The tableau was divided up into 149 segments, each a square meter in size, which were enlarged individually by the Leutner company in Vienna.4 Haas took great liberties with the setting. He enlarged the mountain flowers in the foreground, highlighted the Grossglockner Road and cars, and combined them seamlessly with the glaciers in the background. Above the horizon he mounted a strip of fabric dyed light blue on which he airbrushed dramatically fringed clouds. »A lot of it is completely false, some parts shifted from left to right, copied in reverse, etc., but a good overall impression,« wrote Haas on April 19, 1937, to his brother while he was working on the project.5 Before being shipped to Paris, some of this monumental work was shown in April 1937 as a trial run at the Austrian Hagenbund (fig. 2). A few weeks before the exhibition opened on May 25, 1937, Haas wrote: »An enormous amount of trouble, but a complete success.«6 The reactions to the pavilion and the panorama were indeed mostly positive. Many Austrian and foreign newspapers reported extensively on the montage, but Haas’s elation at the completed work was not unclouded: mixed in with the acclaim was the bitter taste of anti-Semitism, which Haas experienced in the midst of the preparatory work. Years later he recalled the troubling incident in an interview: »Haerdtl called me one day and said, ›Herr Ingenieur, I don’t know how I should say this, but they’ve found out you’re a Jew. It’s better if it doesn’t get out. Would you be willing to take on an Aryan assistant?‹«7 Haas ceded under pressure and agreed to work on the final version with the young painter and exhibition designer Günther Baszel, whose name appeared prominently in the catalogue. His request to the Ministry to travel to Paris with Baszel in May 1937 to supervise the installation fell on deaf ears.8 He was unable to travel to Paris and never saw the finished montage with his own eyes.

Fig. 2. Robert Haas: Preparing the panorama in Vienna, early 1937 [Wien Museum]

This incident appears in retrospect like a harbinger of the disastrous political development that was to take place a few months later, bringing about a fundamental change in Haas’s life. At the beginning of March 1938, Haas was notified that, along with other prize winners, he was to be presented with the Grand Prix, the highest exhibition award, in the Marble Room of the Federal Ministry of Trade and Transport on the Stubenring on March 10, 1938.9 But the award ceremony never took place. Two days later, on March 12, 1938, Hitler’s troops marched into Vienna. Under the new Nazi regime, the presentation of the diplomas was postponed, not least because there were a few Jewish prize winners who were no longer recognized.10 It was only months later, on August 20, 1938, that the prize winners were informed by letter of the final acknowledgement of the awards.11 The letters to Jewish recipients were written but, as an example of bureaucratic perfidiousness, never sent. The files were marked summarily: »To remain in the Ministry.«12 On October 18, 1938, by which time Haas had already been in exile in London for three weeks, he received a final letter about the prize. »The issuance of the award certificate has only just begun. It is unfortunately impossible to determine when your certificates will be ready.«13 This was naught but a blatand lie.


Julius Scherb: View into the Austrian pavilion, Paris Exposition, 1937 Constructing the photomontage in the Austrian pavilion at the Paris Exposition, 1937

P. 16: Robert Haas: Constructing the photomontage for the Austrian pavilion in Paris, Vienna, 1937 (print from negative)



The monumental photomontage that Haas created for the Austrian pavilion at the 1937 Paris Exposition measured 8.66 meters in height and 30.25 meters in length, and portrayed the Austrian mountain ranges opened up in the 1930s by alpine roads. The Grossglockner Alpine Road is at the center, with the Packstrasse to the left, and the Gesäusestrasse to the right. Reproduction from a reduced-size print produced by Robert Haas, 1983



Constructing the photomontage, Vienna, spring 1937 (print from negative)


Fig. 3. Robert Haas: Children in Bad Goisern, Salzkammergut, 1913 [Wien Museum] Fig. 4. Atelier Ferdinand Grega: Robert Haas (left) with his brothers Paul and Georg, Vienna, c. 1916 [Haas Family Collection]

The Early Years Haas made photography into a career relatively late. He was already over 30 years old and had worked for several years as a graphic designer and co-owner of an art printing works when he embarked on his training with the well-known Viennese studio photographer Trude Fleischmann around 1930. But he was not a complete beginner. He had already been interested in the medium as an amateur for some years. As a 12-year-old in 1910 he had been given a camera by his father, who was also an amateur photographer. It was an ICA made by the Internationale Camera Actiengesellschaft in Dresden with 9 x 12 cm negative plates. Haas used it above all when the family traveled to visit relatives in Bohemia and Hungary, or on trips to the Austrian Alps and to Italy (fig. 3).14 Haas’s family background gave no suggestion that he would pursue an artistic career. He grew up in a middle-class, very education-oriented Jewish environment in Vienna.15 Daniel Haas (1866–1950), Robert’s father, had a small textile wholesale business in Vienna.16 His family came originally from Puchau (Púchov), Slovakia, which belonged to Hungary during the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.17 He imported fine fabrics (including brocades) from France and sold them to middle-class customers and wealthy farmers in rural areas of Hungary. He undertook long sales trips himself and was away often. The family of Robert’s mother, Ernestine Haas, née Pick (1870–1939), came from Jungbunzlau (Mladá Boleslav) in Bohemia. Robert had two brothers: the older one, Paul (1896–1989), became a chemist, and the younger one, Georg (1905–1981), a zoologist and paleontologist. When Robert Haas was born in Vienna on April 16, 1898, the family was living at Berggasse 39 in the 9th district. In 1911, thanks to his father’s prospering business, the family moved to a larger apartment at Zelinkagasse 9 in the nearby 1st district. Before 1914, the Haas family lived in comfortable middle-class circumstances. They could afford a cook and another domestic servant. As befitted their status, they spent their extended summer vacations in Bad Goisern in the Salzkammergut. When World War I broke out in 1914, Daniel Haas patriotically invested a large part of his assets in war bonds, a decision with fateful consequences, as he was to find out when the war ended. The two older sons were involved in the war. Paul enlisted first, and then on May 29, 1916, Robert was drafted in spite of a hip injury, which had caused him difficulties as a child but which had healed well following medical treatment (fig. 4). He had not yet graduated from high school and did not do so until October 1916, when he was already in uniform.18 Following his basic training, Haas was stationed initially in Prague, but was later transferred to the Romanian front in Transylvania and finally to the Austrian-Italian theater of war. In 1917–1918, he was a field artillery observer on the Piave River in northern Italy, a dangerous occupation, as he later recalled.19 During his war service he always had a lightweight Icarette roll-film camera (negative format 4 × 4 cm) in his pack, with which he took pictures of the landscape and


his ­travel impressions of the front and hinterland. Some portraits showing Haas in uniform have also ­survived (fig. 5). When the war ended in early November 1918, Haas was discharged from the army with rank of »Fähnrich« (officer cadet).20 The war bonds his father had purchased were now worthless. This caused considerable difficulties for his business. The situation became worse in the early 1920s on account of galloping inflation and the fact that the former sales region in northern Hungary was now in another country following the independence of Czechoslovakia and Hungary after the war. For these reasons, Haas’s father was compelled in 1918 to give up his offices in the 1st district and to work from home. The two domestics were dismissed and there was not even enough money to decorate one of the rooms in the vast apartment, which became a spare room for the sons, and Robert Haas’s first darkroom.21

From Technology to Art Immediately after his return to civilian life, Haas registered in the fall of 1918 to study mechanical engineering at the Technische Hochschule (University of Technology) in Vienna (fig. 6). In academic year 1920–1921, he began a specialization in electrical engineering.22 He graduated at the end of 1924,23 but did not become an electrical engineer. His interest in art did not come overnight but had slowly developed in the time of the social upheavals after 1918. While still studying, he already began to consider other fields Parallel to his technical studies, he trained as a graphic designer and calligrapher and in 1920–1921 attended courses for two semesters at the University of Vienna in economics, history, statistics, and music.24

Fig. 5. Robert Haas (left) as soldier in World War I, 1917 [Wien Museum] Fig. 6. Robert Haas, c. 1918 [Wien Museum]

World War I had clearly shaken up the ordered middle-class life of the Haas family. The father’s authority had developed cracks after 1918 when it began to become increasingly difficult for him to provide for the family. Robert Haas added to the meager housekeeping money by giving private tuition. With his earnings he began to buy books beyond the classical works in the family library (Goethe, Schiller, and the 20-volume Meyers Konversationslexikon to be found in every self-respecting educated middle-class household). He later recalled spending hours in Hugo Heller’s book and art shop at Bauernmarkt 3. He showed an early interest in books about the history and aesthetics of graphic design, but also in volumes with a more sophisticated graphic design content like the Insel-Bücherei and attractively designed collections of fairy tales.25 Haas’s friendship with Carry Hauser, an artist three years his senior whom he had already met while at school through a fellow pupil, was to prove fateful for his career development.26 Hauser, who had studied at the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Applied Arts) in Vienna shortly before the war, introduced him to the Vienna art scene in the 1920s, including the Hagenbund artists and members of the Austrian


Werkbund.27 It was probably Hauser as well who put him in touch after the war with the typographer and graphic designer Rudolf von Larisch, a teacher at the Kunstgewerbeschule.28 After 1918 or 1919, Haas attended Larisch’s class in ornamental lettering and ­heraldry, initially at the Kunstgewerbeschule and then, after 1920, at the Akademie für bildenden Künste (Academy of Fine Arts).29 The encounter with Larisch made a profound impact on Haas’s artistic work. The resultant interest in calligraphy and typography was to become a permanent feature of Haas’s life alongside art printing and photography. Since the 1920s, Haas had worked on several occasions as a graphic designer for exhibitions.30 But Carry Hauser and his circle also influenced Haas’s work, particularly in the 1920s. Hauser introduced him to artistic wood engraving, which played an important role in the Expressionist and New Objectivity avant-garde of the postwar years. In 1922, Hauser and Haas worked together on a small artistically designed book, Ein Tischzucht, with a text by Hans Sachs and woodcut illustrations by Hauser. The work was printed by the Printing Company Jahoda & Siegel in Vienna.31

Fig. 7. Robert Haas: Studio building housing the Officina Vindobonensis, Vienna, c. 1925 [Wien Museum]

By the time Haas founded an art print shop in July 1925, he had several years of experience. Haas called the shop Officina Vindobonensis, and opened it at Schützengasse 9 in the 3rd district with his friends Carry Hauser and Fritz Siegel, son of Emil Siegel, co-owner of a printing works (fig. 7).32 The print shop specialized in art books and commercial art such as brochures, invitations, and posters.33 From the mid-1920s, Haas designed and printed numer­ ous posters for Viennese cultural institutions like the Vienna Philharmonic, the Wiener Festwochen, the Künstlerhaus, the Museum für Kunst und Industrie (Museum of Art and Industry), the Hagenbund and, particularly, the Vienna Secession. He also designed book covers for Krystall Verlag and Druckerei Jahoda & Siegel, as well as magazine covers,34 letterheads, insignias, and logos for private customers. He worked as a calligrapher for various exhibitions and also gave calligraphy lessons in the printworks. He established a reputation as a specialist in art books through the production of elaborately illustrated volumes, sometimes at his own risk and often on contract. Most of the books were printed on the hand press, but the Officina also produced offset prints. By 1938 Haas had printed 21 art books, including works by the Catholic writer Heinrich Suso Waldeck, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Ferdinand von Saar, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.35

A Friendship for Life Haas was a regular member of artists’ circles and coffeehouse groups throughout the 1920s.36 His friends and acquaintances included members of the Hagenbund (such as the painters Franz Lerch, Ludwig Heinrich Jungnickel, Georg Jung, and, as mentioned, Carry Hauser) and the Werkbund (such as Clemens Holzmeister). Through Hauser he attended Hagenbund meetings.37 He also knew the influential art historian Heinrich Schwarz, who worked at the Österreichische Galerie in the Belvedere. The Officina gradually became a meeting place for artists and intellectuals, and also hosted regular studio parties. Apart from many of the above-mentioned artists, guests also included Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Elias and Veza Canetti, Heinrich Suso Waldeck, Fritz Wotruba, Anton Faistauer, Arnold Zweig, and Alfred Kubin.38 Enmeshed in this compact Viennese art scene network, Haas absorbed the innovative artistic trends of the time in passing, as it were. Without yet having committed himself to a particular artistic


direction, he came into contact with avant-garde approaches and themes, first of all Expressionism and then, from the mid-1920s, New Objectivity. Under these circumstances, it is hardly surprising that in the mid-1920s he was already coming into contact with innovative representatives of modern photography. In 1926, a year after the founding of the Officina, the Viennese architecture photographer Julius Scherb photographed the workshop and work of Haas and Hauser at the hand press (fig. 8). A short time later, around 1928, Haas commissioned the Viennese photographer Grete Kolliner, who was known for her modern pictorial language, to do a photo series on his work in the print shop. One of the photos is a striking close-up of Haas’s hands while working (fig. 9). Interest in photography as a medium for artistic expression was in the air in the early 1930s. Newspapers and magazines began to publish photos not just as mere documents but as artistic statements.39 Within the amateur movement, modern trends began, from the mid-1920s, to move away from the conservative mainstream. In 1930, the pioneering German Werkbund exhibition Film und Foto (FiFo), which had been put together a year earlier as a manifesto of modernist photography, was shown in Vienna at the instigation of the Austrian Werkbund. One of the Austrian photographers featured in this exhibition was Trude Fleischmann. Haas had met her in the late 1920s. It is also likely that he visited the Vienna exhibition. Fleischmann was to play a decisive role in Haas’s photographic development.

Fig. 8. Julius Scherb: Robert Haas and Carry Hauser at a manual printing press, Vienna, 1926 [Wien Museum] Fig. 9. Grete Kolliner: Study of hands (Robert Haas in his studio), Vienna, c. 1928 [Wien Museum] Fig. 10. Trude Fleischmann: Georg, Robert and Paul Haas, Vienna, 1928 [Haas Family Collection]

Haas later recalled that he had met the photographer through his friend, Eugen Tarnay, whose mother was a silversmith with a workshop near Fleischmann’s photo studio.40 The first meeting probably took place in 1928, the year in which Fleischmann’s photo of the three Haas brothers was taken (fig. 10). Fleischmann’s studio was at Ebendorferstrasse 3 in the 1st district close to the city hall. In the early 1930s, Fleischmann was probably the best-known Viennese studio photographer. Her list of customers reads like a who’s who of the Vienna art scene. She was known for her modern but not radical avant-garde portraits, as well as her theater, dancing, and nude scenes.41 Haas studied intensively with her from 1929 to 1931.42 He was not her only student; several young women (and a few men, such as Frank Elmer and Matthias Tarnay) trained in her


Fig. 11. Robert Haas: Monika Rückauf and Alix Roth, Vienna, 1935 [Wien Museum] Fig. 12. Robert Haas: Trude Fleischmann swimming (photo taken during a Danube excursion), Vienna, 1933 [Wien Museum]

studio in the early 1930s and assisted her with her work. They included Monika Rückauf, Maria Wölfl, Erika Andersen, Käthe Serog, and Alix Roth. Haas took a wonderful double portrait of the last two in 1935 (fig. 11). With Fleischmann, Haas learned the entire spectrum of studio work, starting with camera setup and the staging of models. He also learned the background activities of photography, including developing, enlarging, and retouching photos. In return, Fleischmann obtained through Haas an insight into graphic design and printing. He designed logos, letterheads, and ex libris for her. In 1931, the two worked together on a book production. Fleischmann provided the cover photo, a portrait, for Brot der Seele by Hans Berstl. Haas was responsible for the design of the cover and contents.43 The book was printed in the Officina. Haas and his photography teacher, three years his senior, got on extremely well right from the start. The teacher-student relationship soon developed into a lifelong friendship, surviving even the difficult years of emigration. They not only shared an interest in photography but also had friends in common and spent a lot of their leisure time together. Haas recalls that he went on regular hiking and skiing trips with her. In the winter, they usually spent several days together in Austrian ski resorts like Saalbach, Obergurgl, or the Arlberg. During the summer, they and their friends often took to the water, going on bathing excursions or floating on the Danube in folding boats (fig. 12).44 Fleischmann’s studio in Ebendorferstrasse was a meeting point for the Vienna art scene in the 1930s. The photographer regularly organized parties and, as Haas later recalled, even proper balls.45 She and her artist friends were also often guests of Haas at the Officina.

P. 27: Robert Haas: Fritz Wotruba, sculptor, Vienna, 1936


Fleischmann’s influence is unmistakable in some of Haas’s photos, especially his portraits. Like her, he tried to avoid the stiffness of traditional studio portraits, seeking rather to emphasize the individual face and character of the subject through the photographic setting. Like his teacher, he brought the camera close to the model and highlighted the face and body against a neutral, white or black background. Unlike her, however, he sometimes took portrait photos in the open air, often abandoning the frontal view in favor of a different angle.


Monika RĂźckauf, photographer,


Vienna, 1938

Vienna 1930s



Fritz Wotruba, sculptor,

Emil Pirchan, architect and

Vienna, 1936

set designer, Vienna, 1935


Susi Wenger, artist,

Harald Peter Gutherz, writer and

Vienna, 1930s

actor, Literatur am Naschmarkt cabaret, Vienna, 1934