When Paul worked at a used bookstore in college he bought two Philippe Halsman coffee table books: Philippe Halsman: A Retrospective and Halsman at Work. I love those books and we have enjoyed spending evenings side by side on the couch slowly paging through the photographs. If you don’t already know of him, Halsman is a portrait photographer who is perhaps best known for his 101 covers for Life Magazine, a record held by no other photographer. In his brief autobiography, which can be read at philippehalsman.com (and is well-worth reading), he says that his “great interest in life has been people,” and his challenge when photographing a face is to capture “the image which reveals most completely both the exterior and the interior of the subject…[which] should, today and a hundred years from today, be the testimony of how this person looked and what kind of human being he was.”
The Halsman family’s self-portrait. Yvonne was a photographer as well who was Philippe’s apprentice before they were married. He liked to joke that the way to get rid of your competitor is to marry her.
Halsman is famous for his portraits taken mid-jump. My favorite is this one of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, first published in Life magazine’s November 9, 1959 issue.
Paul’s favorite is this surrealist collaboration with Salvador Dali. It’s amazing to think this was created pre-Photoshop.
My favorite Halsman portrait of all time though is this one of writer/professor/lepidopterist Vladimir Nabokov. “I have hunted butterflies in various climes and disguises: as a pretty boy in knickerboxers and sailor cap; as a lanky cosmopolitan expatriate in flannel bags and beret; as a fat hatless old man in shorts.” – Nabokov, Speak Memory