Philippe Halsman

American, b. Latvia 1906, d. USA 1979

Philippe Halsman was born in Riga, Latvia and began his photographic career in Paris. In 1934 he opened a portrait studio in Montparnasse, where he photographed many well-known artists and writers -- including Andre Gide, Marc Chagall, Le Corbusier, and Andre Malraux, using an innovative twin-lens reflex camera that he designed himself.

Part of the great exodus of artists and intellectuals who fled the Nazis, Halsman arrived in the United States with his young family in 1940, having obtained an emergency visa through the intervention of Albert Einstein.

Halsman’s prolific career in America over the next 30 years included reportage and covers for every major American magazine. These assignments brought him face-to-face with many of the century’s leading statesmen, scientists, artists and entertainers. His incisive portraits appeared on 101 covers for LIFE magazine, a record no other photographer could match.

Part of Halsman’s success was his joie de vivre and his imagination -- combined with his technological prowess. In 1945 he was elected the first president of the American Society of Magazine Photographers (ASMP), where he led the fight to protect photographers’ creative and professional rights. In 1958 Halsman’s colleagues named him one of the World’s Ten Greatest Photographers. From 1971 to 1976 he taught a seminar at The New School entitled “Psychological Portraiture.”

Halsman began a thirty-seven year collaboration with Salvador Dali in 1941 which resulted in a stream of unusual “photographs of ideas,” including “Dali Atomicus” and the “Dali’s Mustache” series. In the early 1950s, Halsman began to ask his subjects to jump for his camera at the conclusion of each sitting. These uniquely witty and energetic images have become an important part of his photographic legacy.

Writing in 1972, Halsman spoke of his fascination with the human face. “Every face I see seems to hide – and sometimes fleetingly to reveal – the mystery of another human being. Capturing this revelation became the goal and passion of my life.”

Philippe Halsman died in New York City on 25 June 1979.


Exhibitions

1998       Philippe Halsman: A Retrospective - National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C., USA

Books

1998       Halsman Retrospective, Bulfinch Press, USA; Editions du Collectionneur, France
1989       Halsman at Work, Harry N. Abrams, USA
1983       Portraits, McCraw-Hill Book Company, USA
1979       Halsman, International Center of Photography, USA
1972       Sight & Insight, Doubleday & Company, USA
1961       Philippe Halsman on the Creation of Photographic Ideas
              A.S. Barnes and Company, USA
1959/86   Jumpbook, Simon & Schuster, USA; Harry N. Abrams, USA
1954/94  Dali’s Mustache, Simon & Schuster, USA
1949/06  The Frenchman, Simon & Schuster, USA; Benedikt Taschen, UK