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Photography and Public Image

Today, the identity of a notable figure or celebrity may be largely crafted through photographic images.


Dali Atomicus

Philippe Halsman
(American, born Latvia. 1906–1979)

1948. Gelatin silver print, 10 1/8 x 13 1/8" (25.8 x 33.3 cm)

While living in Paris in the 1930s, photographer Philippe Halsman became acquainted with artists of the Surrealist circle. Beginning in the late 1940s, he collaborated with painter Salvador Dalí on a variety of photographic projects. Dalí Atomicus, perhaps the most iconic image to emerge from this collaboration, is a portrait of Dalí inspired by his painting Leda Atomica (1949). The painting appears in the photograph, to the right of an easel, chairs, cats, water, and Dalí himself, all suspended above the ground. It took them 28 attempts at staging this image before they were satisfied with the composition.

 Philippe Halsman photographed some of the most celebrated figures of the mid-20th century—from artists to movies stars to politicians. Early in his career, he took photographs for fashion magazines and cosmetics companies, thereafter venturing into photojournalism, with 101 Life magazine covers to his credit. His close-cropped, sharp-focus portraits were infused with a warmth and sense of humor that revealed Halsman’s ability to make his subjects feel comfortable in front of the camera.

Halsmann, Philippe, Philippe Halsman’s Jump Book, New York: Abrams, 1986. pg. 8.

A literary, intellectual, and artistic movement that began in Paris in 1924 and was active through World War II. Influenced by Sigmund Freud’s writings on psychology, Surrealists, led by André Breton, were interested in how the irrational, unconscious mind could move beyond the constraints of the rational world. Surrealism grew out of dissatisfaction with traditional social values and artistic practices after World War I.

The visual or narrative focus of a work of art.

A representation of a particular individual.

A type of journalism that uses photographs to tell a news story.

In photography, editing, typically by removing the outer edges of the image. This process may happen in the darkroom or on a computer.

 The arrangement of the elements within a work of art photograph. The composition is the interplay between the subject, foreground, background, and other elements in the photograph.

Jump!
Halsman took many so-called “jump” portraits of celebrities and political figures. About this strategy Halsman said, “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.”1