Jumpology and Grace Kelly

by Tim Adams Guardian Feb 24, 2019

In the early 1950s, the Latvian-born photographer Philippe Halsman started to ask every famous person he photographed to jump in the air. He got the idea while trying to make a portrait of Eleanor Ford, matriarch of the Ford motor company family.

“Suddenly I felt a pang, the burning desire to photograph her jumping,” he recalled. Ford agreed, and slipped off her high heels.

For a period of about six years, others followed: Richard Nixon, Marilyn Monroe, Groucho Marx, Salvador Dalí (plus cats) all agreed to leap for the photographer. The photograph here of Grace Kelly is unusual in that Halsman jumps along with his subject.

Halsam believed that “jumpology” was a neat way of breaking down barriers with a subject. “After all,” he noted, “life has taught us to control and disguise our facial expressions, but it has not taught us to control our jumps. I wanted to see famous people reveal, in a jump, self-importance or their insecurity, and many other traits.”

As a rule, Halsman believed jumpers without arm movements were introverts, while jumpers with arms outstretched revealed ambition. He had a theory, too, why some women – Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot, and Grace Kelly here – jumped with bent knees.


“When an adult woman jumps with bent knees like a little girl, it is not a mere coincidence,” Haslam suggested. “It shows that, at the moment of the jump, she has become again a little girl.”

His 1955 portrait of Kelly is included in an exhibition from the Magnum archive devoted to The Body Observed. When he first published it, Kelly sent him a telegram to make sure he noted “when she jumped, she was not yet a princess.”

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