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24 November 2005

Surprise gravity

“Speech was given to man to disguise his thoughts.” – Charles M. de Talleyrand

Jump_spreadI’m thinking that the human race needs to jump more.

And I’d add something to Mr. de Talleyrand’s thought, above. Not only speech but also gravity disguises man’s thoughts.

Last night, my husband—the marvelous and eclectic and über well-read John—handed me one of his favorite books, one I had long seen on our shelves with its distinctive red and cream and black cover encased in a wonderful thick transparent dust jacket cover, but never read.

Jump_bookI read it just before going to sleep and decided that in addition to dancing in my car more, I need to jump more, leap, evade gravity, go real. And I need to see other people jump more, too.

Ah, welcome to the fine art of Jumpology, sardonically outlined by famous photographer Philippe Halsman in this remarkable and odd and funny little book.

Einstein_1Halsman was a famous photographer with 101 Life magazine covers to his credit when he died in 1979. Chosen as one of the world’s ten great photographers in an international poll, he was a photographer of the famous, creating iconic photos of Einstein, Dali, Marilyn Monroe, and many more. Halsman felt a portrait that did not show psychological insight was "an empty likeness" of its subject.

On a routine assignment he discovered a technique that allowed him to go deeper in creating psychological portraiture. It all happened when the Ford Motor Company commissioned an official family photograph in honor of the company's fiftieth anniversary. After a long, tiring session with nine edgy adults and eleven restless children, he remembers that “there was the charming matriarch of one of the great American families, and suddenly, like a pang, I felt the burning desire to photograph her jumping.”

Odder urges have occurred, I’m sure.

Mrs_edsel_ford_jumping“May I take a picture of you jumping?” he asked Mrs. Edsel Ford. “I have never seen an expression of greater astonishment,” he recalled. “The astonished Mrs. Ford replied, "You want me to jump with my high heels?" She asked her children to excuse her and went with Halsman to the hall where she, indeed, jumped—having taken off those heels.

Next, her daughter-in-law, Mrs. Henry Ford II, requested a turn.

“I realized,” he wrote, “that deep underneath people wanted to jump and considered jumping fun.”

Rolleiflex in hand and tongue in cheek, he invented his own Rorschach test—“jumpology”—and convinced his subjects to become airborne in the interest of science.

Nixon_jumpingThe "jump" pictures had charm, and over the next six years, Halsman asked clients to jump for him. Van Cliburn, Edward R. Murrow, and Herbert Hoover declined, but most jumped, like the carefully buoyant Vice President Richard Nixon who jumped for Halsman in the White House.

Halsman claimed the jumps revealed character that was otherwise hidden. "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."

“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’ 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 out what the other person is like. This curiosity 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 catastrophes.”

Emma_big_jump_psycho_1Psychologists, he notes, have many methods for finding out what’s behind our masks—psychoanalysis, hypnotism, Rorschach tests, associations tests, a battery of methods to which Halsman amusedly adds jumpology. He “analyzes” the photographs, commenting on his interpretation of jumps—the symbolism of the leg and arm positions, the face, the ways in which American jumps differ from British jumps. A new measure of cultural difference, imagine! Are your arms straight out, straight up? Your fists clenched or spread wide? Your knees straight or bent? Your mouth open or closed? (Halsman wasn’t fooled by Tallulah Bankhead, who pretended to jump, but kept one foot firmly on the ground—do I ever do that?)Talluluah_bankhead_jumping

The presidents of corporations that appear in the book, for example, all jumped exactly the same way – straight legs, outstretched, bent arms. The reporters were also in identical jump positions, stick figures straight with arms at their sides. Does our jump form determine our career, our destiny, our way of being in the world? he mused.

“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.”

Of course, knowing that the jump reveals one’s character influences the jump, doesn’t it? Marilyn Monroe’s first jumps were like a free and exuberant girl on a playground. After Halsman indicated that jumps reveal character, she was unable to continue, paralyzed by the vulnerability.

Oppenheimer_jumpingWhat does my jump look like? Too constrained, too planned, too tight, too self-conscious, not like Oppenheimer fully extended and reaching the stars. I want to change that. I want mine to be more like a child’s—unburdened by the observations of others, unplanned and full of sheer delight at being airborne—how miraculous! how unbelievable! how freeing! how carefree!

Halsman knew that we all try desperately to establish our identity. “This fascination with the human face has never left me...Every face I see seems to hide and sometimes, fleetingly, to reveal the mystery of another human being...capturing this revelation became the goal and passion of my life."

As Charles M. de Talleyrand said, language is a mask. In my work, we know that using language is a way of being clever, of deflecting the truth, of masking; we must take language away when possible, to avoid that social masking, to get away from merely saying what teacher wants, to get to our own truth, a truth that more often than not comes out in the body, not the brain. Escaping gravity takes away cleverness, leaving us with our glorious ordinary, our jump.

~*~ 37 Days: Do it Now Challenge ~*~

Group_jump2Forget Myers Briggs Personality Type Tests and Rorschach assessments - how do you jump? Examine your psychological portraiture in mid-air, without gravity to hide behind.

Jump! Jump alone. Jump with friends. Jump with your whole damn management team. And ask someone (a friend, a stranger on the street) to take a photo so you can examine your portrait in mid-air. In what ways does it illustrate You, that real You without the social mask, that You not bound by gravity, the “You” of the group? (And, if you’re so inclined, send a copy to pdigh at realwork dot com to help create a gallery of jumps, our own happy Jumporama…)

Remember: deep underneath, people want to jump.



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Wow, 37 days and jumping. Thank you so much for your blog and this last post. I love the specificity of 37 days. It is so much more memorable than 6 months, a year, etc. I am going to a funeral tomorrow of a dear neighbour, the mother of 2 wonderful teenagers, and I think 37 days will be in my mind. I know during the service I will probably want to jump up (I know I won't but I know I'd like to).

In the next few days I will grab the camera and take some pictures of my 3 teenagers and have them take a picture of me jumping. I can't wait to see what jumps out at me...of course 2 of my children are volleyball players so I suspect they can jump higher with more air time so I will have a better chance of capturing them in the air.

I look forward to reading your future posts and going back and reading your earlier posts. Thanks from a Canadian even though our Thanksgiving day was a month ago!

David - what a nice surprise to find your comment - thanks so much for stopping by - and for the very nice note.

I'm sorry that today will be so sorrowful - having lost my dad as a teenager, I am especially sorry for the children of your neighbor whose lives have changed irrevocably. Jump after the service - she's surprised gravity and so can you.

I hope your jumping experiment with your kids is fun - send photos! And since I missed Thanksgiving Day in Canada, Happy Boxing Day a month early...!

Ha, so that explains it. I participated in the high jump during high school and college and while I did not jump as high as some, it was a great feeling, almost like flying. Even now having moved from jumping to running (gravity does have an effect as ones body ages), I do a skip routine as part of my warm up. Hop-skipping along draws some stares from bystanders but I don't care, I'm in my own world of happiness.

I think this should inspire some business offsite meetings to include one of those blow up jumping enclosures (usually reserved for kids parties) for use during the schedule. It may indeed provide the break through needed!

Thanks, Patti. I'll need to look up the book to read/view more on this.

Patti, just want you to know that I jumped today....

thanks. I really needed that.

I'm thankful for you and 37days...hope you and your family had a great day.

Steve - I love the idea of an inflatable moonwalk for business meetings...! Since reading your comment, I've amused myself heartily with the thought of hopping my heart out with work colleagues. Would too much be revealed, would we see too much, would there be too much "there" there...? Thanks for your note - and keep on hop-skipping!

Karrie - thanks for your note - I'm glad to know that you're out there in the world, jumping.

I jumped today, too! I'm going to jump once a day for a month and take a photo each time...for no real good reason except that I can and the final artwork should be mighty amusing...and great blackmail material, so I'll have to hide it.

Come to think of it, I'm going to carry my camera around with me and see if I can convince people to jump...wish me luck!

I just linked to your site, because I'm so thrilled by what I'm reading (and I wish I could remember who linked to you so that I could find you!) I LOVE this post! I'm definitely going to do some jumping. Reading this reminded me of how my 8-year-old niece, who's a gymnast, doesn't just walk through her, backbends and cartwheels and somersaults and twirling and leaping are equally legitimate ways of propelling herself through a space as walking. And I can tell by watching her that she doesn't think about it...she just moves her body however it feels like moving in the moment. Being grounded is a good thing...but not at the risk of never being airborne. :)

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, Patti.

Oh the exuberance of jumping, my hands and legs outstretched, mouth wide open! I wonder what that may reveal? It doesn't matter; it was fun!

Thanks for your thought-provoking blogs.

Take care. =)

During an evening outdoor party at Pinehurst Resort, several staff members from the TN Bar Association retreated from the social responsibilities of the party/annual convention. We ended up at the moon walk still set up from the children's party that afternoon. Six of us got in and jumped with abandon for 15-20 minutes. Your post reminded me what a great release that was from the stress of the meeting. And, our communications person had her camera, and snapped photos. They clearly showed joyful faces of adults who had escaped the adult world!

Betsy - I love the image of association execs bouncing their little hearts out - thanks for sharing! We need more of these captured opportunities for play, don't we?

There should be a common Flickr tag for anyone taking pictures.

Hey Patti, thanks for this very interesting piece! Several friends sent me your link today because of a project I've been working on for the past several years. You might be interested in checking it out at:

Would love to post some of your pictures. Keep on jumping. Be well!

Fixer - I love the suggestion...and sad to say that I'm not very up to speed on tags of any kind, for Flickr or Technorati - will have to admit ignorance as the first step in figuring out the world of tags. I also am not sure what a trackback is....there's a whole world of stuff I haven't yet figured out. In the absence of knowing, I think I'll just jump. ;-)

souris - i LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the link to your project - thanks so much for sending it! I'll pass along jumping photos as I gather them!

What an interesting thing to write and read about. I don't know how I jump.

Pearl - now's the time to find out! ;-)

I am doing my fine art degre project on jumping, not originally inspired by halsman, but the parralles are amazing, very inspired by his theories:)

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