(From Wikipedia, the free
Philippe Halsman (Latvian: Filips
Halsmans; 2 May 1906 Riga, Latvia - 25 June 1979 New York City) was a
Latvian-born American portrait photographer.
Born to a Jewish family of Morduch (Max) Halsman, a dentist, and Ita
Grintuch, a grammar school principal, in Riga, Halsman studied electrical
engineering in Dresden.
In September 1928, Halsman went on a hiking tour in the Austrian Alps with
his father, Morduch. During this tour, Morduch died from severe head
injuries. The circumstances were never completely clarified and Halsman
was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for patricide. The case provoked
anti-Jewish propaganda and thus gained international publicity, and Albert
Einstein and Thomas Mann wrote in support of Halsman. Halsman was finally
released in 1931, under the condition that he leave Austria for good,
never to return.
Halsman consequently left Austria for France. He began contributing to
fashion magazines such as Vogue and soon gained a reputation as one of the
best portrait photographers in France, renowned for his sharp, dark images
that shunned the old soft focus look. When France was invaded, Halsman
fled to Marseille and he eventually managed to obtain a U.S. visa, aided
by family friend Albert Einstein (whom he later famously photographed in
Halsman had his first success in America when the cosmetics firm Elizabeth
Arden used his image of model Constance Ford against the American flag in
an advertising campaign for "Victory Red" lipstick. A year later in 1942
he found work with Life magazine, photographing hat designs, one of which,
a portrait of a model in a Lily Daché hat, was his first of the many
covers he would do for Life.
In 1941 Halsman met the surrealist artist Salvador Dalí and they began to
collaborate in the late 1940s. The 1948 work Dali Atomicus explores the
idea of suspension, depicting three cats flying, a bucket of thrown water,
and Salvador Dalí in mid air. The title of the photograph is a reference
to Dalí's work Leda Atomica which can be seen in the right of the
photograph behind the two cats. Halsman reported that it took 28 attempts
to be satisfied with the result. Halsman and Dali eventually released a
compendium of their collaborations in the 1954 book Dali's Mustache, which
features 36 different views of the artist's distinctive mustache. Another
famous collaboration between the two was In Voluptas Mors, a surrealistic
portrait of Dali beside a large skull, in fact a tableau vivant composed
of seven nudes. Halsman took three hours to arrange the models according
to a sketch by Dali.
In 1947, he made what was to become one of his most famous photos of a
mournful Albert Einstein, who during the photography session recounted his
regrets about his role in the United States pursuing the atomic bomb. The
photo would later be used in 1966 on a U.S. postage stamp and in 1999, on
the cover of Time Magazine, when Time dubbed Einstein as "Person of the
In 1951 Halsman was commissioned by NBC to photograph various popular
comedians of the time including Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Groucho Marx,
and Bob Hope. While photographing the comedians doing their acts, he
captured many of the comedians in mid air, which went on to inspire many
later jump pictures of celebrities including the Ford family, The Duke and
Duchess of Windsor, Marilyn Monroe and Richard Nixon.
Halsman commented, "When you ask a person to jump, his attention is mostly
directed toward the act of jumping and the mask falls so that the real
person appears." The photographer developed a philosophy of jump
photography, which he called jumpology. He published Philippe Halsman's
Jump Book in 1959, which contained a tongue-in-cheek discussion of
jumpology and 178 photographs of celebrity jumpers.
His 1961 book Halsman on the Creation of Photographic Ideas, discussed
ways for photographers to produce unusual pieces of work, by following
three rules: "the rule of the unusual technique", "the rule of the added
unusual feature" and "the rule of the missing feature".
Other celebrities photographed by Halsman include Alfred Hitchcock, Judy
Garland, Winston Churchill, Marilyn Monroe, Dorothy Dandridge, and Pablo
Picasso. Many of those photographs appeared on the cover of Life.
In 1952, John F. Kennedy had two photograph sittings by Halsman. The
result was that one photograph from the first sitting appeared on the
jacket of the original edition of Profiles in Courage. In the second
sitting a photograph was used in the senatorial campaign.
In 1958 Halsman was listed in Popular Photography's "World's Ten Greatest
Photographers", and in 1975 he received the Life Achievement in
Photography Award from the American Society of Magazine Photographers. He
also held numerous large exhibitions worldwide.