Saturday, December 23, 2017

Halsman's philosophy of portraiture

Photographer Philippe Halsman snapped his picture of Einstein just after the scientist had recalled his regrets about contributing to the development of the atomic bomb.

Photo of Albert Einstein by Halsman 
Halsman created hundreds of portrait photos for Life Magazine. Each one was a different challenge.

What he said about the portrait photos applies equally to painted ones:
"If the photograph of a human being does not show a deep psychological insight it is not a true portrait but an empty likeness. Therefore my main goal in portraiture is neither composition, nor play of light, nor showing the subject in front of a meaningful background, nor creation of a new visual image. All these elements can make an empty picture a visually interesting image, but in order to be a portrait the photograph must capture the essence of its subject."

Woody Allen by Philippe Halsman, 1969

"Herein lies the main objective of portraiture and also its main difficulty. The photographer probes for the innermost. The lens sees only the surface. Most people hide behind a socially attractive mask. Others lose their composure in front of a camera. Lighting and photographic equipment are less important for the portraitist than psychology and conversation. If he uses them effectively, sometimes in the short span of a sitting a miracle happens. A fragment of evanescent truth is captured and instant eternity (simply add hypo!) is born. The end result is another surface to be penetrated, this time by the sensitivity of the onlooker. For it is now up to him to decipher the elusive equation between the flat sheet of photographic paper and the depth of a human being."

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