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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