Philippe Halsman: Portraits

Musée de l'Elysée
Jan 25, 2014 5:24AM

Champion of the direct approach, Philippe Halsman also experimented with a wide range of techniques in order to capture the essence of his subjects and express their individuality. Many portraits became iconic images such as his 101 Life magazine covers.

Focus on Marilyn Monroe

Philippe Halsman photographed Marilyn Monroe on several occasions between 1949 and 1959. This important corpus traces the actress's career and reveals the photographer's varied approach during this period. In the autumn of 1949, Halsman was sent to Hollywood by Life magazine to do a report on eight young models embarking on acting careers. Halsman photographed them in four scenes he imposed (the approach of a monster, embarrassing a lover, reacting to a funny story and drinking a favorite drink). He quickly noticed the talents of the young Marilyn Monroe.

This opinion was confirmed three years later when Life commissioned him to do a feature on the actress entitled "The Talk of Hollywood". These shots, some in color and some in black and white, illustrated the actress's everyday life and talents. She acted out a series of scenes, humorously presenting the different stages of the strategy she used when being interviewed for roles. Most importantly, Halsman created several emblematic images of the actress and helped promote her by giving her a chance to have her first Life magazine cover.

In 1954, Halsman welcomed Marilyn Monroe to his New York studio. Halsman's photographs reflect the 'sex symbol' image she cultivated. However, she managed to shoot a more natural portrait of the actress by asking her to jump in the air. There was only a few images of this type because when Halsman explained his 'jumpology' concept, Marilyn, frightened by the idea of revealing her personality, refused to repeat the experiment.

It took five years before she agreed to go along with 'jumpology'. Marilyn Monroe had becoe a star by the time Life magazine offered to feature her on its cover in 1959 to illustrate a major article on Philippe Halsman's 'jumpology'. She treated it as a request for a performance. Over the course of three hours, the actress jumped over 200 times in front of Halsman's lens, in order to achieve the "perfect jump".

Several times Halsman suggested to Marilyn Monroe that they continue this collaboration, but without success. The actress was then at a turning point in her life that was foreshadowing her decline. However, Halsman continued his photographic work on the actress by creating new images, or more precisely variations of portraits he had previously shot. These compositions—montages of prints cut out and rephotographed together expressing the idea of movement, or reworked images transposed in negative form—are characteristic of Halsman's approach in the 1960s. Ten years later, he created a portrait of Marilyn Monroe as Chairman Mao, as requested by Salvador Dalí during his guest editorship of the French edition of Vogue magazine (December 1971 - January 1972).

Explore the exhibition "Philippe Halsman: Astonish Me!" on Artsy.

Musée de l'Elysée