Although he studied engineering, it was photography that would move Philippe Halsman, whose career began in the 1930s in a tiny studio he opened in the Montparnasse district of Paris. It was here where he photographed many of the artists of the time, using a camera with a double lens he built himself. Some of his famous subjects included André Malraux and Marc Chagall, in addition to architect Le Corbusier. When the Second World War broke out, Halsman decided to leave Europe and move the U.S. with his family. In 1941, just after he arrived in New York, he met Salvador Dalí, and it was at this point that their respective artistic universes would join together. Halsman and Dalí worked together on numerous projects over a 37-year period, both inspired by the Catalan painter’s surrealist imagination and the technical prowess of Halsman, who was born in Riga (Latvia) in 1906. Their friendship was so prolific and intense that Halsman even produced a series of photographs featuring Dalí’s iconic moustache. Their desire to play and experiment can be summarized in a single photograph: Dalí Atomicus, which is synonymous with fantasy, movement, passion and a healthy amount of lunacy.
“When you ask a person to jump, his attention is mostly directed toward the act of jumping, and the mask falls, so that the real person appears”. Philippe Halsman convinced many of his famous subjects to spontaneously jump before his camera. It was his personal project, one in which he invested much of his time and energy (and what a hard time he had trying to convince Marilyn Monroe to jump!). His finest portraits of people jumping appear in the book Philippe Halsman’s Jump Book (1959), which in turn gave its name to the phenomenon of jumpology. In its pages the reader will find unforgettable images, like the one of a young Brigitte Bardot jumping in her bathing suit, Jean Seberg jumping with her cat or the one of a timid Audrey Hepburn.
Philippe Halsman was famous for his marvelous portraits (his career began during the black and white era, but he was one of the first to experiment with colour), which graced the covers of 101 issues of Life magazine, although the majority of his work appeared in European and North American press. Politicians, actors, film directors, artists, singers, scientists, members of royalty (or near-royalty: Richard Nixon, Grace Kelly, Alfred Hitchcock, Jean Cocteau, Ray Charles, Albert Einstein, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, just to name a few). They all wanted to pose for Halsman, who was able to sustain a long and prestigious career as a photographer until his passing in 1979. “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”. His portraits speak for themselves, and are now on view at CaixaForum Barcelona as part of the retrospective entitled Sorprèn-me!, ¡Sórprendeme!, Surprise me!, containing 300 photographs which survey the spectacular career of Halsman.
–> The exhibition ¡Sorpréndeme! will be on display at the CaixaForum of Barcelona until 6 November 2016.