“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

Sometimes, a photographer shares his personal work that was never originally intended for publication. Sometimes the “thing” a photographer becomes known for happens by, well, happenstance. Consider Philippe Halsman and his jumping portraits.

The featured jumpers

Top row, l-r: Mrs. Henry Ford, Ray Bolger – dancer & Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, Bridget Bardot, Audrey Hepburn

Bottom row, l-r: Grace Kelly – Actress, Princess of Monaco, Richard Nixon, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Marilyn Monroe

The Ford family

Halsman received a commission from the Ford Motor Company to photograph the entire Ford family for the 50th anniversary of the company. The work was to be published in Life, The Saturday Evening Post and Look magazines. Halsman describes the sitting as “cataclysmic.” After, Halsman asked the family matriarch, Mrs. Edsel Ford, to jump for a photograph. She did. Behind him, Mrs. Henry Ford inquired “May I jump for you, Philippe?”

Philippe Halsman & Marilyn Monroe jumping.
Philippe Halsman & Marilyn Monroe jumping.

Halsman goes on to say,

This was the turning point in my ard road to jumpology. My inhibitions disappeared and were replaced by faith. I realized that deep underneath people wanted to jump and considered jumping fun. From that moment, every time I photographed important people I asked them to jump. -Philippe Halsman’s The Jump Book


The discovery that people, no, matter their age, occupation or status, loved to jump for his camera led Halsman to make hundreds of photos in that style. In several of his portraits, Halsman joins in the jumping on occasion for what today is called a selfie. Viewing work like Philippe Halsman’s Jump Book inspires and reveals the famous as what they really are, people.

Up in the air

During his career, Philippe Halsman photographed many notable people. Some, like the Duchess of Windsor, refused to jump after her sitting with McCall’s magazine, which with her photo on the cover sold out in two days. Later Halsman was asked to make her portrait for the jacket of her book. She enthusiastically jumped. Then her husband jumped for a shot. Ultimately, both of them jumped together holding hands.

Appearing in the gallery below, in order are the father of the atomic bomb, a big band leader, a pianist, and three movie stars.

Philippe Halsman in On Photography

On Photography features mini-bios and images for inspiration.