“A true portrait should, today and a hundred years from today, be the testimony of how this person looked and what kind of human being he was” – Philippe Halsman
Philippe Halsman was was an American portrait photographer. He was born in Riga part of the Russian Empire which later became Latvia. At the age 22-year-old Halsman was accused of his father’s murder while they were on a hiking trip in the Austrian Tyrol, an area rife with antisemitism. After a trial based on circumstantial evidence he was sentenced to four years of prison. His family, friends and barristers worked for his release, getting support from important European intellectuals including Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, Thomas Mann, Jakob Wassermann, Erich Fromm, Paul Painlevé, Heinrich Eduard Jacob and Rudolf Olden, who endorsed his innocence. Halsman spent two years in prison, contracted tuberculosis there, and his letters from prison were published as a book in 1930: Briefe aus der Haft an eine Freundin. He was pardoned by the President of Austria, Wilhelm Miklas, and released in October 1930.
He began to take photographs in Paris in the 1930s. He opened a portrait studio in Montparnasse in 1934, where he photographed André Gide, Marc Chagall, André Malraux, Le Corbusier and other writers and artists, using an innovative twin-lens reflex camera that he had designed himself.
He arrived in the United States in 1940, just after the fall of France, having obtained an emergency visa through the intervention of Albert Einstein.
In the course of his prolific career in America, Halsman produced reportage and covers for most major American magazines, including a staggering 101 covers for Life magazine. His assignments brought him face-to-face with many of the century’s leading personalities.
In 1945, he was elected the first president of the American Society of Magazine Photographers, where he led the fight for photographers’ creative and professional rights. His work soon won international recognition, and in 1951, he was invited by the founders of Magnum Photos to join the organization as a ‘contributing member’, so that they could syndicate his work outside the United States. This arrangement still stands.
Halsman began a thirty-seven-year collaboration with Salvador Dalí in 1941 which resulted in a stream of unusual Photographs of Ideas, including Dalí Atomicus and the Dalí’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.