Ernst Haas’ Role on Breaking Bad

Albuquerque is a city of questionable allure, a desert-washed blip in the landscape of the Land of Enchantment. The city serves as the backdrop to the massively popular TV show Breaking Bad, and in a recent interview with The New York Times, the show’s creator, Vince Gilligan, explains that it was Abuquerque’s “stealth charm” that attracted him to the city, elaborating that one of the city’s greatest assets is the piece of Route 66 that still runs through it, “dotted with old neon motel signs like that great Ernst Haas photo.”


Ernst Haas, Route 66, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1969, printed 2003.
Estimate $5,000 to $7,500. At auction October 17.  © Estate of Ernst Haas


Recognized primarily for his color work, Haas was an early pioneer and eventual master of the medium. Haas is perhaps best known for his iconic photograph of traffic along Route 66 in the rain-soaked streets of Albuquerque. The water oozes into all of the bumps and imperfections in the asphalt and reflects back the glowing neon lights of the city. Born in Vienna in 1921, Haas acquired his first camera, a Rolleiflex, in a manner quite suited to the questionable dealings depicted on Breaking Bad: he got it on the black market in exchange for 10 kilograms of margarine he’d received for his 25th birthday.


Haas joined the Magnum photography agency at the invitation of co-founder Robert Capa, and went on to publish the first color photographic essay for LIFE Magazine–a 24 page spread depicting 1950s New York City. Haas was included in Edward Steichen’s groundbreaking Family of Man exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art and went on to have a retrospective of his work at MoMA in 1962.


Serving as Lot 237 in our upcoming Fine Photographs & Photobooks auction on October 17th, Route 66, Albuquerque, New Mexico by Ernst Haas has been gracing our promotional mailer all summer. Haas once remarked that “Photography is a bridge between science and art.” Breaking Bad tells the story of a chemistry teacher who uses his scientific mind to craft the purest of methamphetamines and build a drug empire in Albuquerque in order to provide a future for his family. Haas’ photograph of Route 66 takes this desert town swollen with gas stations and motels and gives it a newfound, rain-washed brilliance. 

Thanks to Alex Van Clief of Swann’s Photographs department for this guest post!