For three decades, from the Forties to the Seventies, Philippe Halsman's fascinating portraits of celebrities, intellectuals and politicians have been published in the most significant magazines such as; Look, Esquire, Saturday Evening Post, Paris Match and Life. Life published his portraits on 101 covers, a record for any artist.
In 1932, Philippe Halsman set up his first photographic studio in Paris, his distinctive style soon won him great reputation as one of Frances best portrait photographers.
In the summer of 1940, when Hitler's troops invaded Paris, Halsman obtained permission to enter the United States with the intervention of Albert Einstein. He arrived in New York in November 1940, with just his camera and a few personal belongings in a suitcase.
In 1942 life for the first time published one of Halsman’s shot’s and a long collaboration between the photographer and the magazine began.
Halsman liked to compare his work in portraiture to that of a psychologist who looks at his patients with special insight. As he stated "It can't be done by pushing the person into position or arranging his head at a certain angle. It must be accomplished by provoking the victim, amusing him with jokes, lulling him with silence, or asking impertinent questions which his best friend would be afraid to voice."
On the occasion of an assignment in 1941, Philippe Halsman met the Spanish surrealist Salvador Dalí, an encounter which led to a productive friendship, that would last thirty years and generate one of his most impressive and famous of works "Dalí Atomicus".
"Dalí Atomicus" is a masterpiece of technical ability and fantasy, in which the artist, his canvas, furniture, cats, and water all appear to be floating in the air. In his New Yorker studio, Halsman suspended an easel, two of Dalí’s paintings and a stepping stool.
"Six hours and twenty-eight throws later, the result satisfied my striving for perfection," wrote Halsman "My assistants and I were wet, dirty, and near complete exhaustion—only the cats still looked like new."
In 1950, when NBC commissioned Halsman to create a photographic series of their most popular of comedians, Halsman observed that comedians often jumped, but always stayed in character. Through this realisation his "jumpology" concept developed and he later declared that the jumps revealed spontaneous character that was otherwise hidden. "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."
In the spring of 1952, Life sent him to Hollywood to photograph Marilyn Monroe. Halsman asked Monroe to stand in a corner, and placed his camera directly in front of her. Then Halsman, his assistant, and Life's reporter staged a "fiery" competition for Monroe's attention. "Surrounded by three admiring men she smiled, flirted, giggled and wriggled with delight. During the hour I kept her cornered she enjoyed herself royally, and I took between 40 to 50 pictures."
Halsman was aware that showing someone’s true identity had significance far beyond the needs of the celebrity marketplace. "This fascination with the human face has never left me. 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."
In 1958 Popular Photography named him one of the "World's Ten Greatest Photographers" along with Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Ernst Haas, Yousuf Karsh, Gjon Mili, and Eugene Smith.