There is an interesting rule of photography that if you want to relax your subject and capture their true essence have them jump. A major practitioner of this rule was Life Magazine and Magnum photographer Phillipe Halsman. In 1959, he published a compendium of these midair photographs and this has just been reissued by Damiani as Philippe Halsman’s Jump Book.
There are some wonderful and whimsical photographs in this book. Perhaps most telling is his jumping portrait of Marilyn Monroe taken in 1959. At first you are perplexed. Where are her legs? But then you realize that her legs are behind her. Marilyn is revealing her true self – a fact that paralyzed her when Halsman mentioned it. She jumps like a young girl – gleeful and unimpeded.
Indeed, Halsman was able to bring out the child in some of the great stuffed-shirts of his day. We find the Duke and Duchess of Windsor in 1958 holding hands as they leap? – well as they for an instant reveal something of themselves. And then there is Richard Nixon captured in 1959 afloat by Halsman’s camera.
But perhaps most telling is Halsman’s photograph of Marc Chagall. Halsman relates: “I was telling René, my brother-in-law, that I already had a collection of 60 famous jumps and that I had not yet met with a refusal. René, who is hopelessly French, answered, ‘America is a young nation. Inside every American is an adolescent. But try to ask a Frenchman to jump. Il te rira au nez – he will laugh into your nose!’” Halsman photographed Chagall in 1955 gleefully aloft in his garden.