Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Philippe Halsman: Just Jump!


If you happen to be a bride or groom at a wedding, chances are that your photographer will try to take a "jump shot", for lack of a better term. This has been a popular wedding shot for a while now, but who started it all? And why bother with jumping in the first place? To find the answers, you'll have to travel back almost 50 years ago when portrait photographer Philippe Halsman captured Hollywood stars and A-listers in mid-air for his series, Jumpology.


Philippe Halsman began his career in photography in the 1930s working for different fashion magazines in France. Even early on, he was already working against the conventional magazine look at that time, which made him even more in demand. During the Second World War, he moved to Unites States and continued to work in his signature portrait style.

Halsman continued to work with different magazines on portraiture assignments, but it was his enthralling pictures of celebrities and other famous people frozen in mid-air that has kept his name in photography posterity. What began as a half-hearted suggestion to one of his subjects in the early 1950s became a tradition for him in the years to come. He would end each of his succeeding portrait sessions by asking his subjects to hop, skip or leap into the air. He jokingly (but somewhat appropriately) called these images his studies in Jumpology.


Such was the charm and wit of Halsman that he was able to convince even politicians and Royals to jump for him, among them the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and President Richard Nixon. Probably the most famous and elaborate photograph in the series (although made earlier in the 1940s) is Dali Atomicus (second to the last below), The photograph features the surrealist Salvador Dali leaping into the air, paint brush and palette in both arms, wearing an exuberant grin on his face, amidst cats flying  and water flowing before him. It took 28 takes to get the right frame, testament to both the photographer and the artist's commitment to perfection.

Unlike his formal portrait sessions, Halsman rarely directed how each of his subjects would make the mid-air image; each one was to jump in his or her own way. Thus you have Audrey Hepburn in an unrestrained, jovial exaltation and the bearded photographer Edward Steichen (above) leaping with amazing agility despite his age. These in contrast to the more formal and somewhat rigid jumps of the President and Royals below.


Even with the less limber shots, the subjects still display delight at the prospect of their split-second flight. As Halsman said, "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."

Indeed, even the most restrained people can't help but grin, even if it's the shortest of hops. It's no surprise then that today's jump shots taken during vacations or gatherings are done only during the happiest of moments. So instead of asking your subjects to say, "Cheese!", ask them to jump instead. The result probably won't get you published in a magazine, but it'll be worth keeping.



There are more jumping jumpity photographs from Philippe Halsman's Jumpology over at the Laurence Miller Gallery. There's also Philippe Halsman's Jump Book which contains nearly 200 jumping celebrities, politicians and people of note. Don't forget that Halsman was also a fine portrait photographer even without the jumps: check out Philippe Halsman: A Retrospective - Photographs From the Halsman Family Collection or Halsman at Work for more of his photography.


18 comments:

The Angry Lurker said...

Excellent jumpology, real delight in a lot of famous faces.

Fang said...

Oh cool, mid-air jump photos! But what the hell is going on in that second to last one? Haha!

Bonjour Tristesse said...

That Dali one is awesome. I wonder how many takes that one took to get right.

MRanthrope said...

Hepburn looks adorable! I kind of want that photo on my wall.

Shutterbug said...

The photos are so fun! I can't help smiling! :D

Fred Rickerson said...

I knew the exact Dali photo you were talking about before I saw it. The jump shot is such a timeless concept, but I never knew where it originated from! TIL!

AllenTesch said...

It's true, I do like their expressions. Even ol' Nixon looks happy for a split second.

Bart said...

lol dat levitation skillsz

Kid Shuffle said...

someone needs to make a video collage of all his photos, and have Jump playing in the background (i'm sure this joke has never EVER been made before, either!)

lowfrequencies said...

love a good action shot

R.gers said...

Good lord, Water? Cats? I feel really sorry for the cats during the 28 takes.

Damon said...

great post D:

D4 said...

So HE took the Dali picture! I've saved that one but didn't know who took it.

And yes, I think I'd rather say jump than cheese. I will.

Intredasting Bolg said...

Nice portraits!!

r.alsharif said...

I loved these! They look so fun, specially the Audrey Hepburn one i'm a huge fan of her :D

StigmataHandjob said...

I love the one of Edward Steichen almost as much as the one of Dali. He kind of looks like a little boy despite his age.

My 2 Pesos said...

The first one is the best. :D

T. Roger Thomas said...

And now we have Photoshop!

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