Philippe Halsman: Astonish Me! Kunsthal Rotterdam

One of the greatest photographers of the 20th century, Phillipe Halsman is best known for his portraits of famous faces and for his collaborations with Salvador Dalí and Alfred Hitchcock. Always searching for new photographic perspectives, his oeuvre demonstrates an exceptional degree of inventiveness and technical skill. Born in Riga in 1906, Halsman rapidly rose to become an admired portrait artist, photographing icons of the 20th century such as Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill.

Kunsthal Rotterdam’s exhibition Astonish Me! is a collaboration with Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne, and includes more than 300 never-before exhibited works, including contact prints, vintage prints and original photomontages which illustrate Halsman’s constant quest for photographic possibilities and impossibilities.

His direct approach, perfectly mastered technique,  remarkable eye for detail and experiments with the medium resulted in a highly diverse oeuvre ranging from portraits, fashion, photo reports, advertising, personal projects and commissions for institutions and private customers. The exhibition reveals his methods of working, which involved giving himself a set of rules, resulting in a unique visual style.

Halsman committed himself to using unconventional techniques.  His fascination with the surreal brought him into contact with like-minded artists, with whom he loved to spend countless hours exchanging ideas. That spirit of collaboration resulted in the Hitchcock portrait series and Dalí Atomicus (1948) with its flying cats, water thrown from buckets and an astonished Dalí, mid jump with paintbrush in hand.

A signature of Halsman’s work is the idea of “jumpology photography”, which included photos of film stars and politicians captured in mid-jump, the aim of which was to give his portraits a more spontaneous character. He once said: “When you ask a person to jump, his attention is mostly directed towards the act of jumping and the mask falls so that the real person appears.”

Philippe Halsman: Astonish Me!, 27 February – 12 June, Kunsthal Rotterdam, Westzeedijk 341, 3015 AA Rotterdam, Netherlands.

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1. Philippe Halsman, Salvador Dalí with Rhinoceros Head, Performance for the CBS-TV “Morning Show”, 1956, ©Philippe Halsman Archive.