On Influence Part 2

It’s been a while since my last post and today I finally found some time to write again. Today’s post is on my influences again. And when it comes to influences, there is one photographer who had a major impact on the way I view photography, both in theory and in practice, and there is one book that helped me make things happen in my mind and then in front of my lens. So, today, we ‘ll talk about that photographer and that book.

Philippe Halsman, Selfportrait

Philippe Halsman (2 May 1906 – 25 June 1979), was an American portrait photographer. He was born in Riga in the part of Russian Empire which later became Latvia, and died in New York City. So, this is the photographer. I don’t think there is any point in writing an biographical article. If there is anyone who doesn’t know Halsman he could find plenty of stuff online by visiting the website dedicated to his life and work. The following video can give you a pretty good idea about the photographer so that we can move on to the book.

And now to the book…

Dali Atomicus was the first photograph of Halsman that I saw and remember. There is a possibility that I had come across other photographs of his without knowing the person that created them, at the time that I saw them. After that I started searching the internet to get as much information as possible about the life and the work of Philippe Halsman. I am always interested in the life of any particular photographer -their lifestyle, their country of origin, their background, their financial status and so on- as I believe that the facts that affected their personal life, somehow sum up to their body of work.

Dali Atomicus by Philippe Halsman, 1948

As I was digging information and were absolutely stunned by the photographs, I finally came across a book that was published in 1961 and was titled “Halsman on the Creation of Photographic Ideas”. In this book -that is relatively small by the way- Halsman discussed ways for photographers to produce unusual pieces of work by following six rules:

  • the rule of the direct approach
  • the rule of the unusual technique
  • the rule of the added unusual feature
  • the rule of the missing feature
  • the rule of compounded features
  • the rule of the literal or ideographic method

Voluptas Mors by Philippe Halsman, 1951

I will try to write a description for each rule, but I will try to be as brief as possible -as I think you should read the book and you better do so.

So, in his first rule, Halsman explains that being straightforward and plain creates a strong photograph. To make an ordinary and uninteresting subject interesting and unusual, his second rule lists a variety of photographic techniques, including unusual lighting, unusual angle, unusual composition, and so on. The rule of the added unusual feature is an effort by the photographer to capture the audiences attention by drawing their eye to something unexpected by introducing an unusual feature or prop into the photograph.

Alfred Hitchcock by Philippe Halsman, 1962 (while filming “The Birds”)

Halsman’s fourth rule of “the missing feature” stimulates the viewer by going against his or her expectations. The fifth rule enlists the photographer to combine the other rules to add originality to his or her photo. Finally, Halsman’s literal or ideographic method is to illustrate a message in a photograph by depicting the subject as clearly as possible.

Jean Cocteau by Philippe Halsman, 1949

I have this “thing” for photographers that don’t over-manipulate their photographs, digitally or otherwise, and although Halsman was a great master in the darkroom, often combining photographs and exposures and everything, his photographs are still straightforward and have a tremendous impact on me.

Thanks for visiting,

Dimitris Z.