Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Phillipe Halsman: Jumping Out At You

Great Artists

"Most people stiffen with self-consciousness when they pose for a photograph. Lighting and fine camera equipment are useless if the photographer cannot make them drop the mask, at least for a moment, so he can capture on his film their real, undistorted personality and character. "
Phillipe Halsman

Philippe Halsman [1906-1979]: Self portrait on Gelatin silver print.
Photo Credit: Estate of Philippe Halsman.
Source: Wikipedia

Some photographers have a sense of humour that shows in their work. Phillipe Halsman is one the comes to mind. His "Jumpology" collection is a prime example where the artist can provoke certain responses in individuals, even famous ones and ones known to be serious in other aspects of their lives. Owen Edwards writes in Smithsonian Magazine (Oct 2006) the following about Halsman:
And because of Halsman’s sense of play, we have the jump pictures—portraits of the well known, well launched.
This odd idiom was born in 1952, Halsman said, after an arduous session photographing the Ford automobile family to celebrate the company's 50th anniversary. As he relaxed with a drink offered by Mrs. Edsel Ford, the photographer was shocked to hear himself asking one of the grandest of Grosse Pointe's grande dames if she would jump for his camera. "With my high heels?" she asked. But she gave it a try, unshod—after which her daughter-in-law, Mrs. Henry Ford II, wanted to jump too.
For the next six years, Halsman ended his portrait sessions by asking sitters to jump. It is a tribute to his powers of persuasion that Richard Nixon, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Judge Learned Hand (in his mid-80s at the time) and other figures not known for spontaneity could be talked into rising to the challenge of...well, rising to the challenge. He called the resulting pictures his hobby, and in Philippe Halsman's Jump Book, a collection published in 1959, he claimed in the mock-academic text that they were studies in "jumpology."
So be it. Phillipe Halsman was born in Riga, then part of the Russian Empire, on May 2, 1906, into a Jewish family, where his father Morduch (Max) Halsman was a dentist, and his mother, Ita Grintuch, a grammar school principal. In 1932, he moved to Paris, and set up shop as a portrait photographer; he gained a reputation in France as a photographer who took sharp closely cropped images. Then 1940 and war; like many others, Halsman came to America, arriving in November 1940, joining his wife, daughter, sister, and brother-in-law. He arrived with little more than his camera, and his style. (Albert Einstein helped Halsman obtain a visa for the U.S.) Within a short period, he became a photographer for Life. As another photography site puts it:
Halsman's big break in New York came when he met Connie Ford, a model who agreed to pose for him in exchange for prints for her portfolio. When Halsman showed the resulting pictures of Ford against an American flag to the cosmetics company Elizabeth Arden they used the image to launch a national advertising campaign for "Victory Red" lipstick. A year later he was commissioned by Life to photograph new hat designs. His portrait of a model in a Lily Daché hat was the first of his many covers for Life.
In the 1950s Halsman photographed a group of comedians from the TV channel NBC including Bob Hope and Groucho Marx. Each comedian performed while Halsman shot pictures, sometimes taking 300 frames in a single session. Photographing the comedians in action inspired Halsman to produce his famous "jump" pictures, which capture noteworthy people, from Richard Nixon to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, mid-air, jumping for the camera. Halsman felt that asking a person to jump distracted them from posing for the camera and so revealed more of their natural personality. A special section of the exhibition is devoted to Halsman's "jump" portraits.
Those photographs are noteworthy because they capture many well-known individuals acting in ways that is often contrary to the public image of them, except perhaps for the comedians. Of course, these are staged for the camera. You can see some of the images here, including the one that got it all started for him in New York City, Constance Ford ("Victory Red").