Who was Philippe Halsman?
Philippe Halsman was a Latvian-born American portrait photographer. His exceptionally beautiful portraits of renowned artists, politicians, writers, and celebrities brought him name and recognition amongst other photographers. Through his twin-lens reflex camera, which he personally designed, he shot numerous portraits which served as his first step towards success and stardom. However, it was his assignment with beauty products baron, Elizabeth Arden, which became a door-opener for him. His association with Life magazine produced various cover photos, leading to a total of 101 during his entire life. He also worked for other leading American magazines, such as Esquire, Paris Match, Look, Vogue, and Saturday Evening Post. What was more flourishing was his collaboration with Spanish surreal artist Salvador Dali, with whom he composed some popular portraits such as ‘Dali Atomicus’ and ‘In Voluptas Mors’. Besides, his mourning photo of Albert Einstein is counted among his best photographs. He developed jumpology, a philosophy of jump photography, while shooting a couple of comedians in mid-air, which garnered attention and brought him more assignments to capture jump pictures of celebrities such as the Ford family, Marilyn Monroe, and Richard Nixon, among others. He was honored with various awards for his outstanding work on photography and his works have been displayed at numerous exhibitions worldwide
Childhood & Early Life
Philippe Halsman was born on May 2, 1906 in Riga, Russian Empire (now Latvia) into a Jewish family to dentist Morduch (Mark) Halsman and grammar school principal Ita Grintuch.
He finished school by 1924 and went to Dresden, Germany, to study electrical engineering.
He was fascinated by photography at the age of 15 when he found his father’s old-view camera in a store. He bought himself a book to get familiar with the art and shot numerous photos of his only sister, Liouba.
In 1928, he was arrested and convicted for his father’s murder while holidaying in the Austrian Alps. Though he was sentenced to ten years imprisonment, he was freed in 1930 on the condition of leaving Austria for good and never return back.
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In 1930, he went to France and started working for fashion magazines, like Vogue. Eventually, he grew famous as one of the best portrait photographers in town for capturing sharp, cropped images rather than the old soft focused ones.
He started his own portrait studio in Montparnasse in 1934 and designed a twin-lens reflex camera, using which he captured images of various artists and writers, including Andre Malraux, Andre Gide, Le Corbusier and Marc Chagall.
He escaped to Marseilles during the German invasion of France and migrated to the United States after successfully getting an emergency American visa with the help of his friend Albert Einstein.
His photo of model Constance Ford which was used by the cosmetics tycoon, Elizabeth Arden, in an ad campaign for the lipstick, Victory Red, became his major breakthrough in America and opened more doors to success soon after.
His meeting with Spanish surreal artist Salvador Dali in 1941 led to a series of unusual photographs together during their 37-year partnership, due to their similar views on paintings.
He started covering fashion stories on ladies’ hats for Life magazine in 1942 and landed his first cover where he photographed a model donning a Lilly Dache hat.
He went on to do numerous assignments for Life, especially when the magazine wanted an interesting cover. Eventually, he shot 101 Life covers, an achievement that made him proud of himself.
Apart from Life, he worked for several leading American magazines, producing covers and reportage for them, which earned him fame and brought closer to famous personalities during that period.
In 1945, he became the first president of the American Society of Magazine Photographers (ASMP) and fought continuously for the creative and professional rights of the photographers.
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He captured a number of jump pictures of various famous personalities, which included The Duke & Duchess of Window, Richard Nixon, Marilyn Monroe, Maria Felix, and the Ford family.
In 1952, he did two photography sittings with John F. Kennedy, of which one photograph appeared on the original edition’s jacket of his book ‘Profile in Courage’ while the second was openly used during senatorial campaigns.
In 1954, the Dali-Halsman duo released a compilation of their collaborations as ‘Dali’s Mustache’, which included 36 different kinds of views of Dali’s idiosyncratic mustache.
He compiled his 178 photographs of celebrity jumpers and included a discussion on jumpology in his 1959 volume ‘Philippe Halsman’s Jump Book’.
In 1961, he published ‘Halsman on the Creation of Photographic Ideas’, which presented the reader with techniques on producing atypical photos using six rules.
During his lifetime, he photographed numerous celebrities, politicians and intellectuals, who graced the covers and pages of popular magazines, like Esquire, Paris Match, Look, and Saturday Evening Post, apart from Life.
The duo’s ‘In Voluptas Mors’ work was used as a base for the poster of the 1991 film ‘The Silence of the Lambs’, while it was recreated to form the poster of ‘The Descent’ film in 2005.
In 1947, he created one of his most popular photographs of a mourning Albert Einstein, while he was recollecting his regrets on his role in America planning the atomic bomb.
He collaborated with Salvador Dali to produce the famous 1948 ‘Dali Atomicus’, capturing Dali in a playful mood with three cats flying and a bucket of thrown water, inspired by Dali’s own work, ‘Leda Atomica’.
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In 1951, the two worked together to create the most distinguished and iconic work ‘In Voluptas Mors’, depicting Dali next to a large skull which, in fact, is a tableau vivant comprising of seven nude females in extremely beautiful poses.
While on an assignment commissioned by NBC in 1951, he photographed popular comedians, such as Groucho Marx, Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, and Bob Hope, in mid-air, thus developing a type of photography called jumpology.
Awards & Achievements
In 1940, his photograph of Constance Ford that was used in the ad campaign for Elizabeth Arden, received the Art Directors Club Medal.
He was included in the ‘World’s Ten Greatest Photographers’ list by ‘Popular Photography’ magazine in 1958.
In 1975, he was honored with the Lifetime Achievement in Photography Award from the ASMP.
His photo of a grieving Albert Einstein was released on a US postage stamp in 1966 and graced the cover of Time Magazine in 1999 bearing the caption ‘Person of the Century’.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1934, he met Yvonne Moser, a young photographer, in Paris who started working as his apprentice. The two fell in love and married in 1937. The couple had two daughters - Irene (1939) and Jane (1941).
He died on June 25, 1979, in New York City, aged 73.
He was accused of murdering his father and it was brought on the silver screen in the 2008 British-Austrian drama film ‘Jump!’, featuring Ben Silverstone as Philippe Halsman.
This distinguished photographer is the record holder for the most number of images appearing on Life magazine’s cover