“Passion for the Best Possible” — Interview With Maurice Haas, Photographer

Maurice Haas
Maurice Haas
Meet Maurice Haas, photographer for renowned magazines and one who shoots a Hollywood star now and then. Haas talks to THEME about what it takes to be a photographer today — and what’s the point of always having the latest and greatest gear? The Swiss is a kind of anti-photographer, shying away from the limelight and not minding having an old Canon that still performs like a workhorse. And no, he doesn’t say he’s the better photographer. Haas just thinks photographs have become mass commodity. He misses passion for the “best possible.”

Maurice Haas, how did you become a photographer?

It grew out of a hobby. I did an apprenticeship as a draftsman, a blueprint drawer. That job did not really satisfy me. I started saving money. I saved forever to buy a film Hasselblad and used darkroom equipment.

And why photography?

It’s the love for photography that attracts me, and also the doubts. There is always the question whether you can capture a good moment. For a recent exhibition of my work they had to convince me. Nothing to do with coquetry. The sceptic is in my nature.

Sean Penn | Maurice Haas
Sean Penn | Maurice Haas

How you get hold of Hollywood stars?

Most I meet during the Zurich film festival.

What’s your equipment?

I use a Canon EOS 1D Mark III. It’s now more than six years old but good for me. And I don’t have the best lenses. Pictures nowadays are so incredibly sharp.

Susan Sarandon | Maurice Haas
Susan Sarandon | Maurice Haas

You once said there are too many bad photographs.

It’s more of a thought. So many things are thrown out today. Sometimes I miss passion for the “best possible.” There are too many pictures and too many bad pictures. Pictures have become mass commodity. There will always be good photography. Chances are you won’t find it so easily anymore amongst the daily deluge of images.

With millions of pictures taken every day, isn’t every picture taken already? Asked another way: is there anything left you’d like to capture?

My aim is not to create something unique, unprecedented. I guess every succession of notes has already been played. In spite of it beautiful new songs are written. I’d really like to photograph Thom Yorke of Radiohead, now that’s an interesting head.

Richard Gere | Maurice Haas
Richard Gere | Maurice Haas

Talking democratization of photography, is it something anyone can do today or still an art some do better?

Today anyone can. It has become the most natural thing to take pictures. Everyone’s a photographer today. All you need is a telephone. And what’s done by everyone loses value and esteem. At some point, that worries me a bit. When I’m photographing I’m not trying to produce art. On the other hand I defend myself against the common belief photography is mere pressing of the shutter button.

Because?

Creative work can be very exhausting. After an intense shoot I’m as tired as if I’d crossed two mountain passes with my racing bike.

Danny DeVito | Maurice Haas
Danny DeVito | Maurice Haas

Your best photographs, you plan them in detail or they’re more of a “decisive moment” in time?

Hmm, guess it’s maybe a mixture of both. But sometimes there’s this feeling in my spine telling me, “That’s it” — a good moment given the circumstances, the right moment. My encounters are often brief and elusive. My profession is as technical as observant — for the moment when everything fits together. Sure I have to prepare a bit. But if you plan too much you might miss what’s essential. Perhaps it’s not so much about exactly knowing what one wants, but to let go and recognize and capture what that moment or person reveal.

Your images though imply the opposite of flurry and haste. They exude calm and earnestness. Take the portrait of Sean Penn…

It was shot in less than a minute. I may have pressed the shutter button 25 times, the bodyguard already tapped on my shoulder. Well, I didn’t have to do much to be honest. Mr. Penn is a multiple Oscar laureate who put my few humble stage directions perfectly well into action. Additionally, he has such a super noggin, I couldn’t do much wrong.

Tilda Swinton | Maurice Haas
Tilda Swinton | Maurice Haas

Are you trying to convey any message with your images?

I’m never looking for the loud and noncommittal. I’m content if someone’s looking at my photographs and something stays in mind.

Any advice to the aspiring photographer?

Everyone aims differently. I guess honesty makes it in the end. Don’t forget the photography business is in agony sometimes. It’s not such an easy job to do in the end. I really try to give everything I have. And I try to learn from mistakes. They do happen.

Model & Fox | Maurice Haas
Model & Fox | Maurice Haas

For more on Maurice Haas visit mauricehaas.ch.




  • Scarlet_Billows

    Excellent interview, thanks for posting it. It is surprising how often you hear those who are actual photographers say that the gear is the least important part of their job. Or perhaps it isn’t so surprising. Gear-fondling amateurs are just that and don’t work as photographers. I expected at least one or two of the images you include to be film images. Competent post-processing right there.

    • Good eye, Scarlet. The “light effect” in the Tilda Swinton photograph was caused by a not so flawless change of film rolls…