OU T OF THE PAST
is best known today
for the inventive
images he made in
Salvador Dali, but
he was equally
renowned for his
psychological portraiture, as well as for
shooting a record 101 LIFE magazine cov-
ers, more so than any other artist.
Born in Riga, Latvia, Halsman studied
engineering in Germany before moving
to Paris, where he met with early success
as a portraitist. When the Germans invaded, Halsman sent his family to America but was unable to gain passage for
himself until Albert Einstein petitioned
for an emergency visa on his behalf. He
arrived in New York in 1940 speaking five
languages, none of them English.
In Halsman’s quest for the emotive
portrait, he was equally a master of light.
His earliest lighting tests are described
in this excerpt from the Halsman Web
site: “I worked and experimented with
this one light for months in an effort to
explore all its possibilities—how the light
in different positions affected the mood
and feeling of the picture, and seem-
ingly changed the features of the sitter.
Through this kind of experimentation I
gained a basic understanding, which has
remained with me all my life.”
In the early 1950s, Halsman began ask-
ing every famous or important person he
photographed to jump for a picture, with
the aim of revealing in the resulting
image “their ambition or their lack of it,
their self-importance or their insecurity
and many other traits,” he explained.
“Life has taught us to control and dis-
guise our facial expressions, but it has
not taught us to control our jumps.”
Named as one of the World’s Ten Great-
est Photographers in 1958, Halsman’s
assignments brought him face-to-face
with many of the 20th century’s leading
statesmen, scientists, artists and enter-
tainers, whom he photographed until
shortly before his passing in 1979.
Halsman said of his work, “My
great interest in life has been people.
A human being changes continuously throughout life. His thoughts and
moods change, his expressions and even
his features change. And here we come
to the crucial problem of portraiture. If
the likeness of a human being consists
of an infinite number of different images, which one of these images should
we try to capture? For me, the answer
has always been, the image that reveals
most completely both the exterior and
the interior of the subject. Such a picture is called a portrait.”
LEAPING LIZARDS: (top left) Halsman photographed himself with his head on a tripod, (top right) the photographer
jumping with Marilyn Monroe at the end of a 1958 portrait
shoot, (at left), Dali Atomicus (1948), an image made in
collaboration with Dali, for which Halsman shot 28 frames
in order to be satisfied with the resulting photograph.
[ 1906–1979 ]
MASTER OF JUMPOLOGY, VIRTUOSO OF LIGHT
anD aficionaDo of tHe PsycHological Portrait [ By Jill Waterman ]
in 2014, a traveling retrospective of Halsman’s
work will debut in lausanne, switzerland, before
traveling to rotterdam, the netherlands; essen,
germany; and Paris, france, among other possible
sites. this will be his first retrospective in europe.
to learn more, visit the archive at