Philippe Halsman – #100GameChangers

Philippe Halsman is a photographer famous for his portraits of his friend Salvador Dali and for inventing the technique of ‘jumping style’ or ‘jumpology’. In America, his career took off: Halsman became a world-famous photographer and shot more than a hundred Life magazine covers. In 1958, he was included in the World’s Ten Most Important Photographers. He won the public over with his portraits of famous people, whose personalities he captured like few others. In 1952, he made two photo albums on John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Born in Riga in 1906, Philippe Halsman was the son of a Jewish family. After high school, he began studying electrical engineering in Dresden, Germany. At the age of 22, an episode changed his life: he was accused of patricide during a trip to Austria. The Tyrol was an anti-Semitic area and Philippe Halsman was immediately subjected to very specific and serious insinuations. This was based on circumstantial evidence that condemned him to four years in prison. People who had been part of his life up to then managed to limit his imprisonment to two years. Thanks to the support of influential intellectuals such as Thomas Mann, Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein and Erich Fromm. In 1930, the Austrian president released Philippe Halsman. In the meantime, he contracted tuberculosis, and write several letters from his imprisonment, included in the book: Briefe aus der Haft an eine Freundin. After the dramatic Austrian experience, Philippe Halsman chose to live in France. In Paris, he started working for the most prestigious fashion magazine, Vogue. Within a few years, his name stood out among the most important portrait photographers of the then-nascent fashion photography. With the German invasion, Philippe Halsman fled first to the south of France and then to the United States, with the help of Albert Einstein, a family friend whom he would photograph a few years later.

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A true portrait should, today and a hundred years from today, the Testimony of how this person looked and what kind of human being he was

Philippe Halsman

In 1958, Philippe Halsman was included by Popular Photography magazine as one of the “Ten Best Photographers in the World”. In 1975, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society of Magazine Photographers. Four years later, in the summer of 1979, Philippe Halsman died in New York.

Philippe Halsman took pictures for the surrealist Salvador Dalí in the 1940s. The summa of this collaboration is contained in the book entitled Dali’s Moustache from 1945. Within this collection there are 36 images, each with a different styling of the famous moustache. Halsman and Dali had been living in Paris during the same years but, although Halsman was also a frequent visitor to the Surrealist scene, they never crossed paths. The two met in New York in 1941, where they had arrived within months of each other, and formed an artistic partnership that lasted 37 years. Through their many collaborations, their artistic careers influenced each other. Besides to many portraits of the Spanish painter, Halsman took many photographs inspired by Dali’s Surrealism, recreating the painter’s complex and imaginative imagery with the camera.

Besides the Dali, other prominent figures appear in the photograph such as Albert Einstein, Alfred Hitchcock and Elizabeth Arden. The photo of Einstein was used about twenty years later for one of the United States of America stamps. The shot of Hitchcock with the crow leaning on the cigar is a promotion for The Birds, a film by the master of thrills.

Another feature that distinguishes Halsman’s photography is Jumpology. It developed in the 1950s. All Halsman’s characters are naturally surprised and amused. The movement, sharp and lit, portrayed the subjects without the conventional gaze that the media sought, restoring spontaneity. The ‘Jump Book’ from 1959, the same year he immortalized Marilyn Monroe, contains 178 photographs of celebrities from the worlds of entertainment and politics.

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