Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Dalí and Halsman capture a moment

"I have an idea for a photograph," Philippe Halsman said to Salvador Dalí. "In it, you, the easel, and the subject you are short everything—is in suspension."

Using invisible wires, Halsman suspended a chair, an easel, and a print of Dalí's painting Leda Atomica. Three assistants stood ready to toss their cats in the air. A fourth assistant held a big bucket of water.

Halsman counted to four. At "three" the assistants threw the water and the cats in the air, and at "four," Dalí jumped. Flash bulbs froze the action. Halsman quickly developed the film and announced that the composition was not perfect. 

They must try again.

They kept trying for 26 attempts, each time wiping the water off the floor, catching the cats, and drying them off with towels in the bathroom. 

But each time there was something wrong with the composition. This was 1948, long before the era of Photoshop. So, as Halman's daughter said, "Everything had to be done in one shot."

Five hours later, totally exhausted, Halsman declared they had a success, a photo he called Dalí Atomicus. The only thing added was the painting on the easel, which the artist painted on a small piece of paper that was pasted in.

The photo was published in Life and has made Time magazine's list of most influential photographs.

Recently, photographer Karl Taylor recreated the photo setup, sans cats (link to YouTube).

From the book: Halsman: Sight and Insight
Dalís Halsman's daughter recalling the photoshoot.


jeff jordan said...

You mean Halsman's daughter……

James Gurney said...

Jeff, yes, you're right. Thanks for being an attentive reader.

jytte said...

I don't think they had the time to catch the cats before they hit the floor. Today I am afraid that after 26 atempts Halman would be accused of cruelty to animals :o(

James Gurney said...

Jytte, I also wondered how they kept those cats from being totally traumatized after tossing them with water a bunch of times. When Karl Taylor restaged it, he did it without the cats. Halsman recalled that when he and Dali were planning the photo, Dali's original idea was to get a duck and put a stick of dynamite in its rear end, and Halsman talked Dali out of it.

Abe said...

If you ever read this Mr. Gurney always wondered what your stance on say Outsider or Folk Art is? I searched the blog but couldn't find any posts on it.

James Gurney said...

Updated, I don't really have a stance or position on any category of art. I'm always ready to be amazed and to learn about whatever captures my imagination. I guess I just haven't run across anything yet that has grabbed me in that category.

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