Halsman (1906 – 1979) grew up in Riga, Latvia, in a family of assimilated Jews and studied engineering at a university in Dresden. Two years after his graduation, he moved to Paris, turned his photographic hobby into a profession, and opened his own portrait studio, specializing in fashion and theater portraits.
A few years later, with the threat of World War II, Halsman relocated to New York City and quickly gained a contract with the Black Star agency for commercial photographers. While in New York, he also met model Connie Ford, a rising star, who allowed him to photograph her in exchange for free prints. Ford showed some of these to an employee at the Elizabeth Arden cosmetics company and one of them was selected for their “Victory Red” lipstick campaign.
In 1942, Halsman received a contract from LIFE magazine to shoot a photo essay on hats—this shoot became the magazine’s cover story and his “big break” as a high profile American commercial photographer. Halsman was subsequently assigned many celebrity shoots for LIFE, including Marilyn Monroe, Louis Armstrong, Johnny Carson, and Brigitte Bardot, among others.