An Excercise of the Imagination

My friend Sean and I have always had a pretty good relationship because our interests overlap.  As a lover of anything Marilyn Monroe related, he spends a lot of his time looking up and collecting her photographs.  As a lover of photography, I frequently challenge myself to find more obscure photographs of Monroe that haven’t yet made their way into Sean’s personal collection.  It is in this search for new images that I stumbled upon photographer Philippe Halsman.  While rummaging through the massive number of photographs of Monroe on Google, I came across one particularly eye catching photo of her.  Hand in hand with an odd looking man in suspenders, Marilyn was caught on film in a moment of what appeared to be pure and un-posed happiness.  I would soon find that this eccentric suspendered fellow was Halsman himself.

After looking through more of his photographs, it became clear to me that with a simple click of his camera, Halsman offered incontrovertible proof that art’s main purpose is enjoyment. As a photographer, Halsman was different in that there seemed to be a sense of playfulness to his images that were guaranteed to make you smile regardless of how many times you looked at them.  For this reason,  I made it a point to pick up his book Creation – a publication that establishes rules for aspiring photographers to abide by. In this book, he builds a collection of photographic images to both illustrate and prove his points.  While each image is striking and provocative, I found that I was particularly drawn to those in his Dali’s Moustache series.

One would imagine that an entire photographic book revolving mainly around one subject and one subject only (especially something as common-place as a moustache) would become ridiculously boring, but somehow Halsman manages to skim past this problem with ease.  In one particular photograph showcasing the artist’s moustache, Halsman focuses on his “rule of compound features.”  This rule discusses a way to work with several sub-par ideas in order to mend them into something remarkable.  As Halsman describes with wit, “No nightclub would hire a violinist whose playing was only passable or an acrobat whose only ability was standing on his head.  But a passable violinist, playing while standing on his head, could immediately find a booking.  The combination of two mediocre features would have become an unusual act.”  The unusual act in this particular photograph displays Dali submerged in water with a “cloud of smoke” (really milk that Dali had spit out while under-water) floating around his moustache.  A moustache on fire under water? Impossible! And furthermore, all the more exciting to look at.

There are many other intriguing photographs and photographic concepts in Halsman’s collection.  Another interesting shot embodies his photographic idea about “the rule of the missing feature.”  In the photograph, Dali’s entire face is left blank except for his distinctive moustache.  Yet another fascinating photograph, entitled “Leda Atomica,” was inspired by Dali’s belief that everything is in suspension. The result of the two masterminds brainstorming made for an exceptional photograph that, ultimately, took 26 triple throws of cats and water to create. In this particular section of Creation, Halsman urges you to collaborate with others in this way to create incredible images.

Creation goes on to discuss many other concepts that were innovated by Halsman.  From start to finish, Halsman’s book of images is both inspiring and eccentric. This is not just a book for aspiring photographers, but for anyone who is looking to expand themselves in any sort of creative endeavor.  Halsman’s photographs each tell their own hilariously brilliant story that will appeal both to visually stimulated artists and word driven authors alike.

– Mandi Vivacqua


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