M. “Hal” Halberstadt

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M. Halberstadt

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.