M. “Hal” Halberstadt

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M. Halber­stadt
1919 – 2000

M. Halber­stadt was born in Boston, Mass­a­chu­setts, on January 2nd 1919, and grad­uated from Barn­stable High School on Cape Cod. His first exposure to the study of photog­raphy was in high school. An older brother, Ernst Halber­stadt, was also an active photog­rapher during these early years. In 1936 Hal began working as an apprentice photog­rapher in Boston. He worked as an assistant at Garfield & Newcomb, then as a proofer for Bachrach, and later as a photog­rapher for the WPA Art project and for the Index of American Design project.
From 1940 – 1941 he attended the School of Design in Chicago on a Rock­e­feller Foun­dation schol­arship. He was an assistant in the photog­raphy workshop and collab­o­rated with noted 20th century designers Moholy-​Nagy and Gyorgy Kepes. He enlisted in the Army-​Air Corps imme­di­ately after Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941. He was trained as a navi­gator, commis­sioned as a second lieu­tenant and served with the 456th Bomb Group of the 15th Air Force. Halber­stadt was awarded a Purple Heart and the Distin­guished Flying Cross for his service.
In 1945 M. Halber­stadt relo­cated to San Fran­cisco with his wife and first son, and opened his first photog­raphy studio. He had a long career as a studio photog­rapher, special­izing in product photog­raphy, espe­cially images of food. in 1959 he purchased a large indus­trial building at 243 Vallejo Street in San Fran­cisco and began to convert it to one of the most important adver­tising photog­raphy studios in the nation.
Equipped with a full kitchen, huge dark­rooms, and a prop loft with a very extensive collection of crystal, silver, and enough antiques for a good-​sized store. Strate­gi­cally located between the major adver­tising agencies in the city, Halber­stadt began to produce adver­tising illus­tra­tions for many national clients — Safeway Stores, Christian Brothers wines, Quantas Airlines, Leslie Salt, Foremost Foods, and many others. The resulting ads were primarily destined for the major maga­zines of the age — Life, Look, Ladies Home Journal, Sunset, Saturday Evening Post, Colliers, and others.
The studio at 243 Vallejo became a magnet and refuge for artists of many kinds. Photog­ra­phers like Bill Garnett, Ansel Adams, Phil Hyde, and many others joined painters, sculptors, jewlers and ad agency creative people like Tony Smith, Jack Keeler, Maggie Waldron, Marget Larson, among a multitude of others. Happy hour began around 4pm and lasted until the last survivor stag­gered out the door.
The studio thrived until the early 1970s when the US Postal Service raised postage rates for maga­zines and those maga­zines, one after another, went out of business. The demand for photog­raphy for print adver­tising then crashed and adver­tising agencies and photog­raphy studios followed the maga­zines into oblivion. Halber­stadt had been a part of a golden age of print adver­tising based in San Fran­cisco that began in the 1960s and lasted about ten years. He closed his studio in 1974.
In addition to studio work, he taught photog­raphy. His teaching venues included South Boston Boy’s School, School of Design in Chicago, Labor School of San Fran­cisco, Cali­fornia School of Fine Arts, Ansel Adams Workshop-​Yosemite, University of Vancouver Extension lecturer, University of Cali­fornia, Berkeley summer programs 1973 – 1975 and City College of San Fran­cisco. After he closed his San Fran­cisco studio he became a full-​time lecturer at the University of Oregon in Eugene in 1980. He later returned to the Bay Area and died in San Fran­cisco in 2000 at the age of 81. His family included his wife, Olga Halber­stadt, and three sons; Hans, Piet and Erik.
He was the phot­g­rapher for the book “Minerals”, published by Harry F. Abrams in 1974. His work is included in many collec­tions, archives and museums including the permanent collection of the DeYoung Museum of San Fran­cisco and the Chicago Museum of Art. He co-​designed, with Norman Todd-​Hunter, the 1968 Register and Vote stamp.

Biography/​History as shown in the Collection Guide, Special Collec­tions, University of Cali­fornia, Davis

Milton Halber­stadt (1919−2000) had an illus­trious career in fine art and commercial photog­raphy that spanned seven decades and left a body of work covering genres from abstract art to commercial photog­raphy. Milton Halber­stadt, better known as Hal, was born in Boston, Mass­a­chu­setts. He began his career as a photog­rapher there in 1936. He worked for Creative Photog­ra­phers (1936−1937), Bachrach’s (1938−1939) and Garfield & Newcomb Studio gaining extensive tech­nical expertise. At one point during this time, he photographed the streets of Boston for the Works Progress Admin­is­tration and Boston Housing. His creativity with photog­raphy awarded him a Rock­e­feller Foun­dation Schol­arship to the School of Design in Chicago in 1940. Led by Laszlo Moholy-​Nagy, a renowned Hungarian artist, Moholy became very influ­ential in M. Halberstadt’s life. During his years in Chicago, he assisted Moholy and Gyorgy Kepes in the printing of their photographs and photographing their work. It was during this time that Halber­stadt became an expert in devel­oping photographs. World War II inter­rupted this emerging career. In 1943, he trained as a navi­gator. He was the navi­gator for a B-​24 bomber, which flew 11 missions over south-​central Europe and the Balkans. Struck down over Yugoslavia, Halber­stadt, though severely injured safely navi­gated the plane until it landed in Italy. For his valor, he received the Armed Forces’ Distin­guished Flying Cross for safely landing the plane and saving the lives of the pilot and one other airman. After World War II, Halber­stadt, with his family, moved to San Fran­cisco, opening a fine large format photog­raphy studio, M. Halber­stadt Illus­tration (1945−1973). As the premier food photog­rapher on the west coast, he changed how food was photographed and used in print. He has been called bril­liant by his peers who included, Ansel Adams, Minor White, Imogen Cunningham, Dorothea Lange, and Edward Weston. During his 28 years of business, he created campaigns for Del Monte Foods, Ralston Purina, Kaiser, Spice Island, Dole, Paul Masson Vine­yards, Royal Viking Lines, Qantas and the Olive Advisory Board, Dairy Advisory Board, and the Beef Advisory Board. He wall­pa­pered his walls with his awards. The studio had a kitchen for food prepa­ration, dark­rooms, and a huge “prop loft” for the items that were used in the photog­raphy. He worked exten­sively with Maggie Waldron, skill­fully styling food to create the best photographs possible. Halber­stadt taught many classes on photog­raphy while he had his studio in San Fran­cisco as well as after closing the studio. He gave private classes in the United States and Canada. He taught both with Ansel Adams in Yosemite and for the Ansel Adams Gallery. After closing his studio in 1973, he continued to teach classes at University of Cali­fornia, Berkeley, University of Cali­fornia Santa Cruz, Cali­fornia State University, San Fran­cisco and the University of Oregon. Infor­mation about Milton Halber­stadt appears in Warren, Lynne. Ency­clo­pedia of Twentieth-​century Photog­raphy 2006. Comer, Stephanie The Moment of Seeing: Minor White at the Cali­fornia School of Fine Arts Chronicle Books 2006. B&W Magazine Millenium Issue #5 February, 2000. Court, Arthur. Minerals; Nature’s Fabulous Jewels Photog­raphy by Milton Halber­stadt 1974. Kepes, Gyorgy. Language of Vison (Halber­stadt is credited as Halbe) 1961, and The Editors of Time-​Life Books, The Studio. Milton halber­stadt Died on June 26, 2000.

2 thoughts on “M. “Hal” Halberstadt”

  1. Hans Halberstadt says:

    Hal would have been thrilled with this beau­tiful and detailed summary of his life and work.

  2. Michael Breskin - Student and friend of Hal's 1974 says:

    Funny thing, I was thinking of Hal the other day and was wondering if any of his three sons created any type of web site or exhibition(s) with this work.

    I was also a friend of your brother Piet’s in the early 80’s in New York.

    I was very happy to find Hal’s work on the web.

    Michael Breskin

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