Philippe Halsman Essay

Philippe Halsman (2 May 1906 Riga, Latvia – 25 June 1979, New York City) was a portrait photographer who made major contributions to the world of modern movement in photography as a fine art. Although Halsman studied electrical engineering, he took up photography as a profession. Halsman left Austria for France. There he began his career as a photographer to fashion magazines such as Vogue and soon became one of the most reputed portrait photographers in France.

By 1936, Halsman became one of the leading portrait photographers.

His repute lay in the use of sharp, dark images rather than soft and mellowed focus of the old school. When France was attacked during World War II, Halsman eventually migrated to U. S. A , and lived there till death in 1979. In America, Halsman stepped into the world of fashion photography when his image of model Constance Ford was used by the cosmetics firm Elizabeth Arden in advertising “Victory Red” lipstick.

Halsman could make a niche for himself in the photographs of the fashion magazines where his bold sharp portrait images could make a distinct departure from the earlier soft mellowed appearances.

(PSGB, 1963) Halsman left his mark on fashion photography, through the many assignments that he took up over the years in various prestigious magazines; eventually he became the staff photographer for Life magazine, for which magazine he did more than one hundred covers, the first being the one portraying a model in a Lilly Dache hat.

When Philippe Halsman’s portrait appeared on the cover of Life in 1942, it immediately reached a huge audience and created a major uproar. When Halsman joined Life, the magazine was young, and photojournalism was a new field, waiting to be explored, and Halsman embarked on the task diligently with his acumen of creating bright, sharp images. One of Halsman’s famous jump photos of Marilyn Monroe on the cover of Life magazine. (www. iphotocentral. com/… /256/Philippe+Halsman) The photos of Albert Einstein taken in 1947 went on to become one of the most famous ones taken by Halsman.

During the photography session, Einstein shared with him his regrets about his involvement with the United States in pursuing the atom bomb. This portrait was later used in 1966 on a U. S. postage stamp and in 1999, on the cover of Time Magazine, when Time named Einstein the “Person of the Century. ” (Boni, 1962) Apart from the freshness and the new technique that he brought to portrait and fashion photography, Philippe Halsman’s contribution to the world of photography can be gauged in terms of the following focal areas: SURREALISM PSYCHOLOGICAL PORTRAITURE JUMPOLOGY

SURREALISM: Though Philippe Halsman drew upon the works of surrealists, he could internalize the experiment within himself lending a distinctive edge to the evolving leitmotif, in terms of insertion of homely and uncannily disturbing details which held his subjects in a pictorial taut: his deep inroads into the surrealists’ delving of the erotic unconscious had gelled into his subconscious, making him combine so delicately the ordinates of sex, glamour and heightened energy, so synergistically, in the individual portraits of such sensual idols as Merilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot.

In fact, an eminently rewarding outcome of a long and enduring friendship that he shared with the noted surrealist, Salvador Dali for over 3 decades in the early 20th century was a series of tableaux like Dali Atomicus, exploring the playful fantasies of an artist, his canvas, a bucket of water, cats appearing in a suspended flux. Halsman’s title of this photograph has indirect allusions to Dali’s work ‘Leda Atomica’.

visible at the right end of the photograph, behind the cats. The degree of Halsman’s continuous striving for perfectionism can be gauged from one of his observations where he averred that he made 28 attempts before his final work could meet his stamp of approval. (ABC-CIS, 1976) Dali Atomicus (1948) by Halsman in an unretouched version, showing the devices which held up the various props and missing the painting in the frame on the easel.

Another important collaborative effort between Dali and Halsman was seen in Voluptas Mors, a portrait of Dali near a verisimilitude of a skull composed of 7 interlocked nudes. Salvador Dali portrait, In Voluptas Mors (1951) In this joint effort Halsman assiduously exerted full 3 hours for arranging the models in terms of the sketch done by Dali. The posters for the films ‘Silence of the Lambs’ and ‘The Descent’ made use of the photographic version of Voluptas Mors, though in fairly subtle and not so subtle modes.

(T-L Books, 1977) The master of surrealism, Salvador Dali had shared an intimate chemistry with Philippe Halsman. Dali habitually visualised the problems of creating and presenting the depth and intricacies of surrealist art and Halsman almost always managed to resolve these problems for him. ‘Voluptas Mors’ and ‘Dali Atomicus’ are only two examples of their collaborative endeavour that profoundly changed the outlook of the people towards photography as a form of fine art. (Halsman, 1989)

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