Born to a Jewish family of Morduch (Maks) Halsman, a dentist, and Ita Grintuch, a grammar school principal, in Riga, Halsman studied electrical engineering in Dresden.
In September 1928, 22-year-old Halsman was accused of his father's murder while they were on a hiking trip in the Austrian Tyrol, an area rife with antisemitism. After a trial based on circumstantial evidence he was sentenced to four years of prison. His family, friends and barristers worked for his release, getting support from important European intellectuals including Freud, Einstein, Thomas Mann, Henri Hertz, and Paul Painlevé, who endorsed his innocence. He was pardoned and released in 1930.
Halsman consequently left Austria for France. He began contributing to fashion magazines such as Vogue and soon gained a reputation as one of the best portrait photographers in France, renowned for images that were sharp rather than in soft focus as was often used, and closely cropped. When France was invaded by Germany, Halsman fled to Marseille. He eventually managed to obtain a U.S. visa, aided by family friend Albert Einstein (whom he later famously photographed in 1947).
In 1941 Halsman met the surrealist artist Salvador Dalí; they began to collaborate in the late 1940s. The 1948 work Dalí Atomicus explores the idea of suspension, depicting three cats flying, a bucket of thrown water, and Dalí in mid air. The title of the photograph is a reference to Dalí's work Leda Atomica which can be seen in the right of the photograph behind the two cats. Halsman reported that it took 28 attempts before a satisfactory result was achieved. Halsman and Dalí eventually released a compendium of their collaborations in the 1954 book Dali's Mustache, which features 36 different views of the artist's distinctive mustache. Another famous collaboration between the two was In Voluptas Mors, a surrealistic portrait of Dalí beside a large skull, in fact a tableau vivant composed of seven nudes. Halsman took three hours to arrange the models according to a sketch by Dalí. Various reenactments of and allusions to In Voluptas Mors have appeared over the years; most famously, a version was used subtly in the poster for the film The Silence of The Lambs, while an overt reenactment appeared on a promotional poster for The Descent.
In 1951 Halsman was commissioned by NBC to photograph various popular comedians of the time including Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Groucho Marx, and Bob Hope. While photographing the comedians doing their acts, he captured many of the comedians in mid-air, which went on to inspire many later jump pictures of celebrities including the Ford family, The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Marilyn Monroe, María Félix and Richard Nixon.
Halsman commented, "When you ask a person to jump, his attention is mostly directed toward the act of jumping and the mask falls so that the real person appears." The photographer developed a philosophy of jump photography, which he called jumpology. He published Philippe Halsman's Jump Book in 1959, which contained a tongue-in-cheek discussion of jumpology and 178 photographs of celebrity jumpers.Wikipedia