Philippe Halsman, the photographer who asked his sitters to jump!
Philippe Halsman was born in Riga in 1906. He studied engineering in Dresden before moving to Paris, where he set up his studio in 1932. In just four years, Halsman became one of the best portrait photographers in France.
In Paris, Halsman studied the work of the surrealists and this sympathy for surrealism led to a long friendship with Salvador Dali. The two met whilst Halsman was on an assignment in 1941. They became partners on many projects, the most notable being Dali Atomicus, where Dali, his canvas, furniture, cats, and water all appear suspended in mid-air.
However, Halsman’s career came to a stand still in the summer of 1940 when Hitler’s troops invaded Paris. It was only through the intervention of Albert Einstein that Halsman managed to obtain a Visa to enter the US where he arrived in November of 1940 with little more than his camera.
Here, Halsman’s big break came when he met model Connie Ford. When people at Elizabeth Arden saw Halsman’s photograph of Ford against an American flag, they liked it so much they decided to use it for one of their campaigns.
In 1950, Halsman was asked by NBC to photograph its comedians. These included Groucho Marx and Bob Hope. When Halsman compared these comic images to his more traditional portraits, he found that comedians often jumped. Humor drove him to ask other ‘sitters’ to jump for his camera and in this way, Halsman discovered the jump pictures had a certain charm. Over the next six years Halsman would ask many clients to jump for him. These included Richard Nixon who jumped for Halsman in the White House.
“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.” – Philippe Halsman 1906-1979