Phillipe Halsman was born on May 2 1906 in Riga, Latvia to Max Halsman, a dentist, and Ita Grintuch, a principal of a grammar school.
At the age of fifteen, young Phillipe came across his father’s discarded view camera, immediately sparking his imagination. He began photographing his family and quickly discovered his passion and talent, in portrait Photography. After graduating first in his high school class, Mr. Halsman enrolled in the electrical engineering program at the University of Dresden in Germany. In 1930, after graduation, Mr. Halsman relocated to Paris and began his career as a portrait photographer. In 1932 Mr. Halsman opened his first studio and merely two years later his work began appearing in magazines such as Vogue, Vuand Voila.
Halsman’s career was brought to a grinding halt when Hitler’s troops infiltrated Paris in 1940.Halsman’s family had already immigrated to America, yet Halsman found himself trapped under military rule and because of his Latvian citizenship, without a proper visa. After several months of anxiety and suffering, Mr. Halsman was able to obtain an emergency visa through the intervention of family friend, Albert Einstein. In November of 1940, Phillipe Halsman arrived in New York City with nothing more than his camera and a suitcase.
Once in America Mr. Halsman quickly established himself in the Photographic community. In 1942, he completed his first Life Magazine shoot and his portrait of a model smiling through a feathery brim was adorned on the cover of the magazine. His photographs would grace the cover of Life over one-hundred times prior to the magazine disbanded the weekly edition in 1972.
Phillipe Halsman’s unique disarming ability expose the personality of his subjects without pretense, quickly made him one the most sought after photographers by our nation’s cultural elite. Some of his clientele portfolio included, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Alfred Hitchcock, Robert Kennedy and Richard Nixon. Mr. Halsman also began a thirty year collaboration with surreal artist Salvador Dali in 1941. Their partnership created many surreal photographic images, the most famous of which, "Dali Atomicus," portrayed Dali along with, cats, furniture and water all suspended in midair.
Mr. Halsman compared his career to the discipline of psychology. He ardently believed that manipulating the position of your subjects or throwing them into gorgeous scenery was not the way to portray their character. Instead, he believed in provoking them, pushing them into revealing their unconscious self. Halsman man was a student of the human face, obsessed with uncovering the mystery behind the mannerisms and idiosyncrasies that are ingrained in our psyche.