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A Photographic Love/Hate Relationship, part 2: Jumping Pictures

November 8, 2010

I can’t say how many times have I been shooting with my friends, and I hear,

“Ok! Now, let’s all JUMP!”

And everyone goes up in the air, and the photos go up on Facebook, and the comments say, “AWWW that’s so cute!”

But really, who looks good while jumping? It’s not the most flattering situation a human can be in. Your face is making some distorted expression, your wardrobe is probably malfunctioning, and your hair is doing God-knows-what. So why do we keep doing this to ourselves and putting these photos on the Internet for the world to see?

Jumping seems to be one of those go-to poses when you’re taking photos with girl friends. My cliché senses tingle whenever I see these photos, and it brings out a good eye roll from me. But I discovered, as I did with tilt-shift, that someone had conquered this photo style long before Facebook was overloaded with it.

Readers, I would like to introduce you to Mr. Philippe Halsman.

Halsman was an American portrait photographer who worked with characters ranging from Salvador Dalí to Marilyn Monroe, and with publications including Vogue and Life. He had Albert Einstein as a family friend. He was on Popular Photography’s “World’s Ten Greatest Photographers” list, and received the Life Achievement in Photography Award in 1975 from the American Society of Magazine Photographers.

I first encountered Halsman because of my love of Audrey Hepburn. I was attracted to the black and white photos in Barnes & Noble’s postcard section, and found a great photo/postcard of Audrey in midair, looking perfectly joyous, and I had to buy it. I stuck it on my bulletin board, and didn’t think about it much. Sometime later, I was reading an Audrey biography written by her son, and saw another jumping photo of her. It turns out they were both taken by, of course, Philippe Halsman. It was then I decided to look into his photography, and I’m glad I did.

Halsman says, “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.”
Well, shut my mouth! My anti-trend mentality has once again been proven wrong. Halsman’s portraits show that there is much merit to jumping photos. Granted, I think that very few people do them as well as he does, and I’m probably not going to start to take jumping pictures all the time. But Halsman is a master of the portrait. The way he captures a personality perfectly as the jump is incredible.

Philippe Halsman’s Jump Book was published in 1959 after six years of asking celebrities to jump. The book has been out of print for some time, but I’m hoping to buy a copy of it. Yes, I am now a fan of Halsman’s “jumpology”. It might be a $100 book, but I consider it a good investment (and cheap compared to most of the stuff photographers like to buy)!

There is an excellent Smithsonian article on the photographer I red recently. It reveals much about the man and his sense of mischief, and I recommend it.

So, without father ado, here are some of my favorite Halsman jump portraits. Enjoy!

Audrey Hepburn (my postcard picture)

Grace Kelly

J. Robert Oppenheimer

Eva Marie Saint (I love this shot so much)

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor

Richard Nixon

Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis

Salvador Dalí (Isn't this perfect? It supposedly took 28 attempts before they got it just so)

Aldous Huxley


3 Comments leave one →
  1. Joseph permalink
    November 9, 2010 10:08 am

    I participated in a “jump photo” recently. Unfortunately it was at an event where people were dressy and I could be seen by others, so I was particularly self-conscious during the process. The shot didn’t get printed, which is probably for the best. But the thing I notice in several of these shots is delight. As buttoned-up adults, we don’t do things like jump. Granted, you are in college and people your age do all kinds of things that most people over 30 wouldn’t think of doing. So to call an adult to lose enough self-consciousness to show pure delight, and to capture it on celluloid is a real feat. It’s delightful!
    However, in some of these photos you can see it’s a strain rather than delight. It makes me question the person’s state of mind, either temporal or permanent. So, either they weren’t comfortable in the moment or perhaps they are not comfortable enough within themselves to be delighted by anything.
    I’d be delighted to jump for you Amy! Maybe a family Thanksgiving jump shot?!
    Thanks again for sharing, much to my delight!

  2. August 11, 2011 11:12 pm

    These photos are amazing – I especially love the Audrey Hepburn and Eva Marie Saint photos. Halsman was right, there is an honesty in these jump photos that you don’t normally get.

  3. August 15, 2011 12:15 pm

    Thanks for a well written introduction to Halsman of whom I’ve hadn’t heard before.These are great! I had to pin them all.

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