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Nicholas Haz

Time Period: 
1924-1950
Location: 
Manhattan; occasional West Coast sojourns
Biography: 

(1883-1953)

Hungarian-born painter and photographer Nicholas Haz became one of the important teachers of photography in the second quarter of the 20th century. A theorist whose ideas bridged pictorialism and modernism, Haz published two classic texts on photographic technique: Emphasis in Pictures: A First Aid to Composition (Canton, 1937) and Image Management: Composition for Photographers (Cincinnati, 1946). Ansel Adams worked with Haz in 1937, and that mentorship, along with the principles laid out in Haz's volumes strongly influenced Ansel Adams's formulation of "Zone" in imaging.

Trained as a painter and graphic artist in Budapest, and taught by the noted symbolist Franz Van Stuck, Haz emigrated to the United States in 1913. During the War years, he supported himself with a succession of make-work jobs and court sketch artist, advertising layout artist, and cartoonist. When Nickolas Muray set up his Greenwich Village Studio in 1920, he employed Haz as a retoucher. Haz began making portraits on his own and had established a successful studio by mid-decade, from the first trying to establish a reputation as a theatrical portraitist.

In late 1924 he broke into print, placing images with the New York Times and in early 1925 with Vanity Fair. Eloquent and public-minded, he lectured frequently upon fine arts and photography on the radio station WGBS New York during the 1920s. In June 1927 the New York Camera Club held an exhibition of Haz's portraits. In the later '20s he developed associations with a number of cultural institutions in Brooklyn--both the Brooklyn Museum, where he was instrumental in the organization of the 38th annual exhibition of Pictorial Photography, and the Brooklyn Academy of Arts and Sciences, where he began in teaching studio practice (figure and portrait work) in fall of 1928. In the early 1930s he was based in Utica, New York, and graced the Letters columns of the NewYork Times regularly with witty rejoinders to expressions of aesthetic philistinism whenever they appeared. In 1934 he returned to Manhattan and spoke on "Creative Picture Making" and the Roerich Museum. He opened the Haz-Sanders School of Photography at Rockefeller Center.

Haz's aesthetic interests included a deep appreciation of American popular culture, particularly cinema, and animated cartoons most of all, which embroiled him in a number of public controversies about the value of Hollywood in respect to European film-making. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society. In 1939 an exhibition of his theatrical portraiture from 1925-1930 took place in the gallery at Rockefeller Center. In the late 1930s, in the midst of the debates over non-objective painting, Haz began producing prints of objects that appeared non-representational. These provocative prints were displayed at the Julien Levy gallery in October 1939.

Ever attuned to the novelties in media, Haz in 1940 participated in some of the first TV broadcasts in New York, offering a show on "How to Improve Your Photographs" on W2XBS NY January 19, 1940. Later that year he was named an associate of the Photographic Society of America. David S. Shields/ALS

Specialty: 

While Haz photographed a vast range of subjects, his invariable concern in photography was composition. He was interested in depth of field, asymmetry, and visual echo effects. He tended toward straight photography, thinking the art of the camera was largely a work of setting the frame for the picture. His prints are not overly worked, as he was a minimal retoucher.