Philippe Halsman (Latvian: Filips Halsmans, German: Philipp Halsmann; 2 May 1906 – 25 June 1979) was an American portrait photographer. He was born in Riga in the part of the Russian Empire which later became Latvia, and died in New York City.
Halsman was born in Riga to a Jewish couple, Morduch (Maks) Halsman, a dentist, and Ita Grintuch, a grammar school principal. He studied electrical engineering in Dresden.
In September 1928, 22-year-old Halsman was accused of his father's murder while they were on a hiking trip in the Austrian Tyrol, an area rife with antisemitism. After a trial based on circumstantial evidence he was sentenced to four years of prison. His family, friends and barristers worked for his release, getting support from important European intellectuals including Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, Thomas Mann, Jakob Wassermann, Erich Fromm, Paul Painlevé, Heinrich Eduard Jacob and Rudolf Olden, who endorsed his innocence. Halsman spent two years in prison, contracted tuberculosis there, and his letters from prison were published as a book in 1930: Briefe aus der Haft an eine Freundin. He was pardoned by the President of Austria, Wilhelm Miklas, and released in October 1930.
Halsman consequently left Austria for France. He began contributing to fashion magazines such as Vogue and soon gained a reputation as one of the best portrait photographers in France, renowned for images that were sharp rather than in soft focus as was often used, and closely cropped. When France was invaded by Germany, Halsman fled to Marseille. He eventually managed to obtain a U.S. visa, aided by family friend Albert Einstein (whom he later famously photographed in 1947).
Halsman had his first success in America when the cosmetics firm Elizabeth Arden used his image of model Constance Ford against the American flag in an advertising campaign for "Victory Red" lipstick. A year later, in 1942, he found work with Life magazine, photographing hat designs; a portrait of a model in a Lilly Daché hat was the first of his many covers for Life.
In 1941 Halsman met the surrealist artist Salvador Dalí; they began to collaborate in the late 1940s. The 1948 work Dalí Atomicus explores the idea of suspension, depicting three cats flying, a bucket of thrown water, and Dalí in mid air. The title of the photograph is a reference to Dalí's work Leda Atomica which can be seen in the right of the photograph behind the two cats. Halsman reported that it took 28 attempts before a satisfactory result was achieved. Halsman and Dalí eventually released a compendium of their collaborations in the 1954 book Dali's Mustache, which features 36 different views of the artist's distinctive mustache. Another famous collaboration between the two was In Voluptas Mors, a surrealistic portrait of Dalí beside a large skull, in fact a tableau vivant composed of seven nudes. Halsman took three hours to arrange the models according to a sketch by Dalí. Various reenactments of and allusions to In Voluptas Mors have appeared over the years; most famously, a version was used subtly in the poster for the film The Silence of The Lambs, while an overt reenactment appeared on a promotional poster for The Descent.
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