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Francis Haar Collection

Identifier: MANUSCRIPT-CAHA00017

Scope and Contents

Photographs, films and papers of photographer Francis Haar (1908-1997). He was well-known as both a fine art photographer and documentary photographer in Hawaii. His portrait's appear in Artist's of Hawaii and he frequently photographed friend and fellow artist Jean Charlot. He is well known for his photographs of 'Iolani Luahine as well as other dances in Hawaii and Japan.


  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1930 - 1997

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is part of the Archive of Hawaii Artists & Architects. Access is by appointment only. Please contact the Art Archivist Librarian at the Jean Charlot Collection by email: or phone: 808-956-2849.

Biographical / Historical

Francis Haar (1908 – 1997) was a Hungarian-born photographer and filmmaker with an international career that eventually led him to Hawaii. He started working as an interior architect and poster designer, teaching himself photography. He became an active and leading member of Munka Kor (Work Circle), an avant-garde group of artists and writers concerned with social issues. His original photographs depicted the hardships of Hungarian peasant life, but after becoming a licensed photographer in 1935, his work showed colorful folk dances and picturesque scenes – many produced for tourism promotion. His strong sense of design was evident and similar to Bauhaus concepts.

In 1937, Haar and his wife Irene moved to Paris where there already were a large number of Hungarian artists and photographers. They opened a studio in Budapest and Haar concentrated on portrait photography and street scenes. While in Paris they became friends with the Japanese film importer Hiroshi Kawazoe and his wife, the pianist Chieko Hara. The Haars were invited by their friends to Tokyo where they were well received and Francis’s work was exhibited. Soon they opened a portrait studio and Irene opened a Hungarian restaurant. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, they were forced to evacuate to Karuizawa where they lived under difficult conditions, including some periods when they had only watercress to eat. He was forbidden to take photographs and eventually was not allowed to talk with Japanese people.

After the war, Haar worked for the occupation forces as a photographer for the U.S. Army publication Yank. He also reopened his studio where in the late 1940s and early 1950s, he produced some of his best work. Ignoring the occupation, he depicted traditional Japanese village life, festivals, calligraphy, ceramics, plays, geisha and abalone divers. Haar called his approach a “realistic documentary style.” He lived and worked in Japan for two decades.

After working in Chicago, 1956-1959, as a photographer for the Container Corporation of America, Haar and his wife came to Hawaii in 1960 to make a film about Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints. He specifically worked with James Michener who had an extensive collection of these prints. He decided to stay in the new state and spent most of his time making films. Haar continued to make still photographs and to teach photography during the summers at the University of Hawaii. Among his photographs are portraits of well-known local artists Jean Charlot, Madge Tennent and Juliette May Fraser.

At the time he came to Hawaii, Haar had created eight documentary films and published nine books on Hungarian and Japanese culture. In the next 17 years, he produced seven more films and five more books, depicting many aspects of Hawaii life. His now iconic photographs of kumu hula 'Iolani Luahine are a large part of his legacy. In the 1960s he took documentary photographs and made a film of Honolulu’s Chinatown district which was about to disappear in the path of urban renewal projects. These are much used by a variety of scholars and have been seen in public exhibitions.

Haar initiated and directed a project to record prominent artists of Hawaii in the 1970s. Many of his portraits appeared in the two volumes of Artists of Hawaii (University of Hawaii Press, 1974, 1977). In 1984, Haar was designated a Living Treasure of Hawaii by the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii and the Hawaii State Legislature.


Films 1951 The best of old Japan 1958 Japanese calligraphy 1960 Pineapple country, Hawaii: a story of the fruit of research 1962-63 Aala: the life and death of a community 1961 Hula hoolaulea – traditional dances of Hawaii 1963 Pineapple growing in Hawaii 1965 Hawaii’s Asian heritage 1976 Ceramics 1976 Design 1976 Painting 1976 Printmaking 1976 Sculptures 1976 Textiles 1980-1989 Ukiyo-e: prints of Japan

Books 1946-1951 Pictorial Japan 1950? Photographic views of Japan 1952 Japanese theatre in highlight: a pictorial community 1954 Geisha of Pontocho 1954 Mermaid of Japan 1960 The Tokyo you should see 1972 Legends of Hawaii: Oahu’s yesterday 1985 Iolani Luahine 1986 A zen life: D.T. Suzuki remembered 2001 Francis Haar: a lifetime of images


63 Linear Feet : (10) 13" record boxes (16) photograph albums

73.5 Cubic Feet : Oversize flat storage




Francis Haar was a prolific, highly regarded photographer, even before he left his home in Hungary to settle in Japan (1940-60) and then Hawai'i (1960-97), with transitions through Paris (1937-39) and Chicago (1956-59). The beauty and variety of his work is shown in Francis Haar: A Lifetime of Images (UH Press, 2001), an essential autobiographical source, edited by his son.

Haar's photographs reveal both his own humanity, and also his abiding interest in the humanities - discovered in Hungary, explored in depth in Japan, expanded in Hawai'i. Most striking, his work strongly combines beauty with accurate documentation. It encompasses dance, theatre performance and the performers of several kinds and cultures; the lives and works of living artists, architects and traditional crafts people; Zen Buddhist communities and practitioners; portrait studies of the famous, of children and teachers, of ordinary workers and family groups, folk art and customs; trees and flowers,; timeless landscapes and changing cityscapes; abstractions and self-portraits - a primarmy resource of an estimated 35,000 images, barely glimpsed in Haar's publications on the same subjects.


Francis Haar Collection
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Hawaii at Manoa Libraries Repository