The immortal photographers will be straightforward photographers, those who do not rely on tricks or special techniques. – Philippe Halsman
His early career
Latvian photographer, Philippe Halsman began working in photography in Paris. His portrait studio in Montparnasse opened in 1934. There he photographed artists — André Malraux, André Gide, Le Corbusier and Marc Chagall. He used a self-designed twin lens reflex camera. Fleeing the Nazis he emigrated with his family to the United States on an emergency visa he got thanks to the help of Albert Einstein.
Photographing in America
During the ensuing 30 years, Halsman established himself as a preeminent portraitist. He had 101 covers of Life to his credit that were of scientists, entertainers, statesmen and artists. No other photographer achieved so many covers for the venerable magazine. He was the first president of ASMP — American Society of Magazine Photographers in 1954. The society worked diligently under Halsman’s guidance to obtain rights for photographers and other creatives. He was named by his colleagues as one of the “World’s Ten Greatest Photographers” in 1958. He taught “Psychological Portraiture” at the New School from 1971 to 1976.
To me the face – the eyes, the expression of the mouth – is the thing that reflects character. It is the only part of the body that permits us to see the inner person!
A 37-year collaboration with the renowned artist began in 1941. The work of photographing ideas led to famous pictures including “Dali Atomicus” and the Dali’s Mustache series.
By the early ’50s, Halsman was asking his subject to jump for his camera as each portrait session finished. These photographs are a very important part is his legacy. 178 of them were compiled in “Philippe Halsman’s Jump Book” in 1959.
Halsman on Halsman
“What is the purpose of my photography, of my taking pictures?” What I am trying to capture in the picture is… I’m trying to sum up a personality as much as it is humanly possible. I know it is like the [mathematical constant] “pi.” You never get the complete and final answer, but you can come as close ti it as possible. It seems to me that if I am producing an honest psychological document about a human being, this picture might later become the visual symbol for the entire personality of my subject. In some cases it has worked out like this. For instance my picture of Professor Einstein is now the picture that everybody thinks of when Einstein is mentioned. It was used on the postage stamp and it was used on the cover of many of his biographies. It is probably also one of the deepest and most interesting portraits that i have made.
Philippe Halsman – on the question: “If you were interviewing Philippe Halsman, are there any specific questions you would ask him?”, Photographers on Photography: A Critical Anthology by Nathan Lyons (Editor), Page: 39
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