Sam Haskins, born Samuel Joseph Haskins (born November 11, 1926, died November 26, 2009), was a photographer best known for his contribution to nude photography, pre-Photoshop in-camera image montage, and his books, the most influential of which were Cowboy Kate (1965) and Haskins Posters (1973). From 2000 to 2005 he has focused on fashion photography for Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Allure and New York. In 2006 he republished Cowboy Kate in a 'Directors Cut' edition with some additional images. In 2009 he published, under the family imprint The Haskins Press his first book in 24 years. 'Fashion Etcetera' is a thematic slice through his archives that explores a lifelong passion for fashion, style and design. He suffered a stroke on September 19, 2009, the opening day of his exhibition to launch 'Fashion Etcetera' at Milk Gallery in New York and died at home in Bowral, Australia, nine weeks later.
Sam Haskins was born in Kroonstad in the province of the Orange Free State of South Africa. His father Ben was a goods inspector on South African Railways. Early creative influences were fueled by an interest in magic tricks, kite making, drawing and the circus. A talented athlete, as a teenager Sam excelled at hurdling and trained with a circus, resulting in a job offer as a trapeze catcher.
Formal higher education was at the Johannesburg Technical College, 1945 to 1948, where he did a general arts course followed by a part time photographic module. Between 1949 and 1951 he studied at the London School of Printing and Graphic Arts in Bolt Court, later renamed the London College of Printing and now known as the London College of Communication.
Sam Haskins married Alida Elzabe van Heerden in 1952 and they have two sons; Ludwig (August 4, 1955) and Konrad (January 26, 1963). Alida gave up a career in fashion soon after their marriage to become Sam's business partner. She played a key role in the launch of his career by acting as a publishing agent for Five Girls when Sam was still an unknown photographer. She continued to negotiate worldwide publication of all subsequent Haskins books.
Haskins started his career as an advertising photographer in Johannesburg in 1953. He ran what was probably the first modern freelance advertising studio in Africa. He produced commercial work across a very broad spectrum of photography from still life to industrial, fashion and aerial. His first formal creative output was a one-man show at a popular Johannesburg department store called John Orrs in 1960. This featured black and white photography of models in the studio and included some photographs of dolls made by the young Elisabeth Langsch, who later went on to become Switzerland's leading ceramist.
His international reputation and his signature photographic passions were established by four key books published in the 60s. Five Girls (1962) explored a fresh approach to photographing the nude female figure and contained important first explorations with black and white printing, cropping and book design which went on to become a key feature of all his subsequent books. Cowboy Kate (1964) was probably the first creative black and white book of the 20th century to deliberately explore black and white photographic grain as a medium for expression and image design. The book was highly influential at the time and went on to sell roughly a million copies worldwide and win the Prix Nadar in France in 1964. It continues to influence contemporary photographers, film makers, fashion designers and make up artists nearly five decades after its publication.
A shortage of copies of the original edition, which was selling to collectors for up to USD3,000, led Haskins to bring out a digitally remastered 'director's cut' version in October 2006, published by Rizzoli in New York. The new version of Cowboy Kate, apart from image editing and layout revisions, also features 16 pages of additional new images.
November Girl (1966) contained a number of key image collages which formed the basis of many graphic and surrealist experiments in the 1970s and 80s. African Image (1967) was a visual homage to the indigenous people, culture, landscape and wildlife of sub-saharan Africa. The images in the book represent a lifelong interest in photographing graphically stimulating environments and formally document Haskins' personal passion for indigenous craft. He broke bones on river rapids and wrote off two Volvo saloon cars on African dirt roads while shooting African Image. Despite its international award, this meticulously constructed book, celebrating a love for sub-Saharan Africa, is probably the least known of Haskins' major creative projects; nonetheless, it is coveted by serious collectors of African art and photography.
In 1968 Haskins moved to London and ran a studio in Glebe Place just off the King's Road. He worked here as an advertising photographer for a list of international consumer brands — Asahi Pentax, Bacardi, Cutty Sark Whisky, Honda, BMW, Haig Whisky, DeBeers, British Airways, Unilever and Zanders — and specialised in the art direction and shooting of calendars, especially for Asahi Pentax in Japan. Although Haskins endorsed Hasselblad for a short period in the late 60s and early 70s his loyalty to the medium format 6x7 camera and lenses from Asahi resulted in a rare longterm association between a camera manufacturer and photographer. From 1970 to 2000 Asahi Optical (later Pentax) produced 30 calendars of which Sam Haskins shot and art-directed 15 editions including the millennium calendar. No other photographer was ever invited to contribute more than once. He is still involved with the Pentax Forum Gallery in Tokyo, which hosts his exhibitions. His first contact came in 1967 when Asahi Optical presented him with a 35mm camera after hearing that he had shot African Image with various competitors' products.
In 1972 he produced his first colour book, Haskins Posters.
The large-format publication contained pages printed on one side using a thick stiff paper and a soft glue perfect binding allowing the pages to be removed and used as posters. Haskins and his wife Alida successfully self-published the book internationally, with their own publishing company, Haskins Press. The book won a gold award at the New York One Show. At the time the best-known image from Haskins Posters, a girl's face superimposed on an apple with a bee near the stem, appeared on the cover or in editorials of almost every major photographic magazine around the world. This image was part of a well-publicised visual and graphic experimentation with the apple theme in the 70s that for a while resulted in photographic journalists nicknaming him 'Sam the Apple man'.
The images in Haskins Posters traversed a number of different creative themes that all became signature passions for Haskins' image-making over the next three decades; graphically strong compositions of nudes characterised by a natural essence in the models while the image-making explored themes of graphic experimentation, humour and sensual eroticism. Haskins' has a recurring theme (rooted in his training as a painter) of creating tension in the surface of his photographs between flat graphic elements and 3D chiaroscuro. These results are often achieved with sophisticated lighting and/or double exposures. A highly creative and design driven approach to lighting almost always plays a key role in Haskins' work, both in the studio and on location. He often develops complex lighting designs for a single specific shot that are never repeated. The most recent example of which is a fashion shoot for New York magazine's 75th anniversary issueshot in New York's Pier 57 studios in August 2006.
He also often sculpted and painted graphic elements for his photographs and drew inspiration from a combination of surrealism, illustration, film and modern graphic designers.
The graphic experiments first seen in Haskins Posters and related exhibitions at London's Photographer's Gallery and National Theatre resulted in a book called Photo Graphics (1980).
The title of the book coined a new term in photography that has since become widely used.
Haskins' next book, Sam Haskins á Bologna (1984) resulted from an invitation by the mayor of Bologna to photograph the city.
The publication was accompanied by an exhibition in the city. This project led to two more homages to visually rich locations shot over a series of visits; one in Barcelona (1991) and another in Kashmir (between 1992 and 1994).
In 2002 Haskins and his wife Alida moved to the Southern Highlands in Australia and built the third house/studio of their partnership. The move away from London resulted in a renaissance in Haskins' fashion photography. While he always had a passion for fashion from the start of his career, and Cowboy Kate influenced fashion designers who openly credited Haskins, he had not been courted by the mainstream fashion world and it is fair to say that he also did not court them. A shoot for [Yves Saint Laurent (designer)Yves Saint Laurent] in Paris in 2002 resulted in a 'rediscovery' that led to a stream of assignments in London, New York, Paris, Tokyo and Sydney working for fashion houses and magazines.
In December 2006, a month after his 80th birthday, the first retrospective exhibition of his work (with a portraiture bias) opened at the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra (Australia). This was also his first exhibition at a national museum/gallery. The show ran for four and a half months through to April 22, 2007.
The exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery includes several portraits of other artists never seen before including one of the late Jean-Michel Folon, a graphic artist much admired by Sam Haskins. Although one or two of the images from this personal portrait project had previously been published, the majority remained part of a quiet collection built up over decades of meeting and befriending other artists.
Sam Haskins' artistic estate is now managed by his wife and son who will continue to publish and exhibit his work.
Sam Haskins is unusual among photographers for also being recognised as a designer. He has on various occasions given tribute to the following artists as being an influence on his work. Photographers: Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Edward Steichen, and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Designers and typographers: McKnight Kaufer, Paul Rand, Louis Dorfsman, Willy Fleckhaus, Alexey Brodovich, Herb Lubalin, Milton Glaser, Paul Rand, and Saul Bass. Painters: René Magritte, Surrealism, Dadaism, Impressionism, Post Impressionism, 20th century art from Paris, Pop Art. Film makers: Federico Fellini, Carol Reed (for his directing of The Third Man), Sergei Eisenstein (primarily for the directing of Strike).