Sam Haskins (1926-2009) is a pervasive global influence in creative, figure, glamour, fashion and advertising photography. He never courted the fashion glossies, but in the last 6 years of his active shooting career (from the age of 77-83), they courted him. In 2000 Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar finally woke up and started working with the quiet genius who had been influencing their shooters for decades.
Sam studied fine art and illustration in Johannesburg and photography at the Bolt Court School in London (1949-1961) which later became the London College of Printing. As a young busy advertising photographer in Johannesburg from the late fifties and through the sixties, he spent his evenings working on his own creative projects, four seminal books, which despite - or maybe because of - the geographical isolation, went on to become international best sellers and played a key role in defining the style of the sixties. Even to this day, Sam’s books are on the coffee tables of the world’s most influential creative figures across multiple artistic disciplines.
Haskins grew up in extreme poverty in rural South Africa and saw art as a hugely inspiring escape from the strictures of a repressive religion and the provincial values of his birth nation. With no local museums or galleries, the art came to him in his isolated hometown, Kroonstad, in the form of the circus and comics, plus he made his own kites, magic tricks and drawing. Later when the family moved to Johannesburg, he routinely played truant from school to spend the day immersing himself in art through the books in Johannesburg’s municipal library.
London had a huge influence on Haskins as a student. There was still post-war food rationing and a lot of bomb damage. Still, the excitement of London’s cultural life, the museums and the energy around the Festival of Britain created a lasting love not just of London but of Europe in general. When the apartheid regime started to hunt down liberal artists and ban their work, he had no choice but to leave in 1968, with a close call between New York and London as destinations.
He remained highly eclectic in his artistic passions throughout his life and always urged those he mentored to absorb a wide range of art and culture, not just photography.
He is most famous for his books on figure photography, ‘Five Girls’ 1962, ‘Cowboy Kate & Other Stories’ 1964, ‘November Girl’ 1967, which established him as a unique creative voice in photography and a leading master of a problematic genre with very few top exponents. Crucially it also cemented his reputation for fresh thinking and craftsmanship at every step of the photographic process, from set building to lighting to printing.
While the figure's work won awards and fans around the world, there were two other books, ‘African Image’ 1967 and ‘Sam Haskins a Bologna’ 1984, which showed a set of profoundly poetic musing on a matrix of life issues: secular and spiritual tensions, duty, sacrifice, love, art, dreams, fear and isolation which he really could only express through photography.
The finely crafted beauty in Haskins's work is often infused with complex longings, which may well be part of the reason for its lasting power and popularity, especially among women.
Because he printed to make book maquettes, not to cater to a print collecting market, which barely existed in the sixties, his vintage and later silver gelatin works are exceedingly rare. His prolific artistic nature produced many different images but only a few copies of each image, which is a collector’s dream. If you own a Sam Haskins silver gelatin print, be it true vintage or later, you own something which is not only historic and beautiful but also exceedingly rare. ‘Rare’ in this instance means typically 1-3 copies, occasionally up to 12.
The Sam Haskins Estate is now managed by his son Ludwig.