During the 40 years of his career, Philippe Halsman used the element of surprise in his works, hence “Astonish me!”, the title of a show at Lausanne’s Elysée Museum..
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Unlike many of the photographers of his time, Halsman (1906-1979) did not use photography as a means to seize a fleeting moment –discovering the thrill of being in the right place at the right time. Instead, he carefully crafted each one of his images, seeking however to retain an element of spontaneity.
It was this spontaneity, and perhaps a dose of unorthodox humour, that allowed Halsman to capture what he qualified as the ‘essence’ of the celebrities he was asked to portray more than 100 times for Life magazine.
When he asked his subjects at the end of a photo session to jump in the air, they hardly ever refused, including Richard Nixon and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. The science of ‘jumpology’, as he called it, allowed them to forget the camera and reveal themselves.
Halsman’s broad range of activities (portraits, fashion shoots, reportages, advertisements and personal projects) were closely tied to the arrival of glossy magazines. When cinema and then television came to dominate the entertainment industry in the fifties and sixties, he learned to compete with new strategies.
He realised that when his irreverent sense of humour shone through and his quirky creativity was allowed to flourish he could stay on top of the game. His collaboration with the Surrealist Salvatore Dali over 30 years proved he was right.