Visual art

5 Days of Photography. 5: Philippe Halsman (1906-1979)

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It’s the final day of 5 Days of Photography and I’m finishing as I began; with an oldie. Day 5 is Latvian-American artist Philippe Halsman, responsible for that photo of Einstein and producing work for Vogue and Life magazines. Dabbling in photography from the age of fifteen, Halsman went on to become one of the world’s most recognised photographers, working with subjects such as Marilyn Monroe and Richard Nixon.

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“I realised that deep underneath people wanted to jump and considered jumping fun” – Philippe Halsman

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He exhibited his work several times at the avant-garde Pléiade gallery alongside other photographers including Man Ray, André Kertész, Brassaï and Laure Albin Guillot. When Germany invaded France in 1940, Halsman’s prosperous career came to an end and he fled to New York with his family. There he would work for numerous American magazines including Life, the first magazine illustrated solely with photos… In all he shot 101 covers for Life magazine.
But Philippe Halsman was far from being just a celebrity photographer. In fact he experimented his whole life long, pushing back the boundaries of his chosen medium. For more than 30 years he worked in close collaboration with Salvador Dalí and invented ‘jumpology’, which consisted in taking photos of famous people jumping as a way of obtaining more natural and spontaneous pictures of his subjects.
Philippe Halsman stands out by the wide range of his activities: portraits, fashion, reportage, advertising, personal projects, as well as private and institutional commissions. Halsman’s photography is characterised by a direct approach, a high level of technical mastery and attention to detail. 
L’oeil de la Photographie

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Born to a Jewish family of Morduch (Maks) Halsman, a dentist, and Ita Grintuch, a grammar school principal, in Riga, Halsman studied electrical engineering in Dresden. In September 1928, 22-year-old Halsman was falsely accused of his father’s murder while they were on a hiking trip in the Austrian Tyrol, an area rife with antisemitism. After a trial based on circumstantial evidence he was sentenced to four years of prison… He was pardoned and released in 1930.[1] 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 images that were sharp rather than in soft focus as was often used, and closely cropped. When France was invaded by Germany, Halsman fled to Marseille. He eventually managed to obtain a U.S. visa[citation needed], aided by family friend Albert Einstein (whom he later famously photographed in 1947). 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; a portrait of a model in a Lilly Daché hat was the first of his many covers for Life… 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, María Félix and Richard Nixon… His 1961 book Halsman on the Creation of Photographic Ideas, discussed ways for photographers to produce unusual pieces of work by following six rules:

“the rule of the direct approach,”
“the rule of the unusual technique,”
“the rule of the added unusual feature,”
“the rule of the missing feature,”
“the rule of compounded features,”
“the rule of the literal or ideographic method.”

In his first rule, Halsman explains that being straightforward and plain creates a strong photograph. To make an ordinary and uninteresting subject interesting and unusual, his second rule lists a variety of photographic techniques, including unusual lighting, unusual angle, unusual composition, etc. The rule of the added unusual feature is an effort by the photographer to capture the audiences attention by drawing their eye to something unexpected by introducing an unusual feature or prop into the photograph. For example, the photograph of a little boy holding a hand grenade by Diane Arbus contains what Halsman would call an added unusual feature. – Wikipedia


Please note that Examining the Odd does not condone the throwing of cats, no matter how wonderful an artist you are.

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