Dali Atomicus by Philippe Halsman

Philippe Halsman entered the world by way of Riga on May 2, 1906. Educated in Germany, Philippe was just 15 years of age when he captured his first photographs and was quickly taken by the art of photography.

Halsman eventually moved to Paris where his work garnered much attention. His fame grew after his photographs landed on the pages of “Vogue”, “Vu” and ” VoilĂ ” magazines.

In 1940, Halsman relocated to New York and, a year later, he met prominent Spanish painter, Salvador Dali. Spawned by a mutual creative spirit, the meeting led to a friendly relationship that spanned thirty years. During this period, Halsman captured Salvador on film and it became probably the most famous photo of his career known as the “Dali Atomicus”, echoing Dali’s canvas with “Leda Atomica”. This surreal picture was created without any editing and tricks – just carefully staged, with meticulous preparation, a lot of effort and incredible patience of all the participants involved in the shoot.

The creation of Dali Atomicus by Philippe Halsman, 1948

Before the right shot was captured, the filming was repeated twenty eight times. An assistant lifted a chair, all took their places and Halsman started the count. An assistant poured a bucket of water, others tossed cats, Dali jumped, and Halsman started shooting. Then the photographer headed into the dark room. While he developed the film and evaluated the results, assistants were busy cleaning spilled water, then catching and soothing the unhappy cats. The entire shoot took six hours with twenty eight throws of water buckets, twenty eight tosses of cats, and twenty eight jumps by Dali. Halsman later said that, at the end of filming only the cats were feeling alright. He and the dirty, wet assistants literally toppled to the ground!

Unretouched version of Dali Atomicus by Halsman.

“Life Magazine” published the spread in 1948, featuring the version of the photo with no retouching. Visible is the fishing line, with two paintings and a stool dangling from a ceiling easel, along with the hands of an assistant holding a chair. Even today, this image is still considered a brilliant work of art.