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Jumpology

August 1st, 2008 · No Comments

Philippe Halsman was a staff photographer for LIFE magazine for much of his professional life. After being inspired by a whimsical notion to ask Mrs. Henry Ford to jump for her portrait, he became inspired to request jumps from all the important people he photographed. Halsman justifies “jumpology” and elaborates on his methods in the introduction to his collection of photographs, titled JUMP BOOK (1959). What follows is an excerpt from his introduction.

“Jumpology”

This book shows 178 jumps executed by some of the most prominent and important people of our society: political figures, leaders of industry, famous scientists, artists and writers, Nobel Prize winners, judges, theologians, movie stars, TV performers and outstanding athletes. I did not select these subjects. They were the people I was commissioned to photograph in the last few years.

I must, therefore, apologize to the many illustrious and deserving men and women who were not given the opportunity to jump. In no way does it mean that they were not worthy of joining the exclusive roster of famous jumpers. It only means that by some bad fortune their names were not lately in my appointment book.

Here the thoughtful reader- thoughtless readers skip introductions – will ask himself: all this jumping is good and well, but what for? How come? These two questions show such psychological depth on the part of the thoughtful reader that, in order to do them justice, my answer must plunge deep into the art of jumping.

“To be facetious, when serious –
or to be serious, when facetious?”

~ Unknown philosopher, “The Mask”

Many remember Prince De Talleyrand for saying that the tongue was given to diplomats to hide their thoughts. But who will remember the author for saying that the face was given us to hide our inner self.

Our entire civilization, starting with the earliest child education, teaches us how to dissimulate our thoughts, how to be polite with people we dislike, how to control our emotions. “Keep smiling” or “stiff upper lip” are new categorical imperatives. The result of this is: when we look at somebody’s face, we don’t know what he thinks or feels. We don’t even know what he is like. Everybody wears an armor. Everybody hides behind a mask.

But one of our deepest urges is to find our what the other person is like. The curiosity is to peek under other people’s masks is responsible for the success of gossip columnists, of magazines like Confidential and True Confessions, of tell-it-all autobiographies. It influences even our love life. How many romances started with the desire to penetrate the beloved’s enigmatic armor? And continued with the hope that in a cataclysm of passion the mask would fall as masks do fall – alas! – in the moments of other great catastrophies.

The urge of an ordinary person to find out our innermost secrets is called nosiness and is despicable. When it is done scientifically by a person with an appropriate college degree it is called psychology and is admirable. Psychologists have devised many methods to find out what we are hiding under our masks.

They use psychoanalysis or hypnotism or a truth serum; they apply tests like the Rorschach test, associations, etc. To this arsenal the author is adding a new psychological tool – the jump. He calls this new branch of science “jumpology.”

In a jump the subject, in a sudden burst of energy, overcomes gravity. He cannot simultaneously control his expressions, his facial and his limb muscles. The mask falls. The real self becomes visible. One has only to snap it with the camera. While the previous psychological methods were lengthy and costly, the jump is rapid and economical.

Halsman goes on for another 24 pages explaining the origins and finer points of jumpology. The book should be readily available at your local library. Go pick it up.

Tags: Essays & Articles · Uncategorized

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