Friday, April 5, 2013

How The Famous "Dali Atomicus" Photo Was Taken

Before modern, computerized techniques in image manipulation, Latvian-born American portrait photographer Philippe Halsman shot this photograph of the surrealist artist Salvador Dalí suspended in mid-air. While today this image could easily be replicated in Photoshop, it wasn’t possible in 1948.

The 1948 work Dali Atomicus explores the idea of suspension, depicting three cats flying, water thrown from a bucket, an easel, a footstool and Salvador Dalí all seemingly suspended in mid-air. The title of the photograph is a reference to Dalí's work Leda Atomica (at that which can be seen in the right of the photograph behind the two cats.) Halsman reported that it took 28 attempts to be satisfied with the result.

Halsman and his 4 x 5 format, twin-lens reflex camera

Below you can see an unretouched version of the photograph that was published in LIFE magazine. In this version the wires suspending the easel and the painting, the hand of the assistant holding the chair and the prop holding up the footstool can still be seen. The frame on the easel is still empty.

Gelatin silver photo print was done in his New York studio and Halsman used the 4 x 5 format, twin-lens reflex camera, that he, himself, had designed in 1947. The copyright for this photo was registered with the U.S. Copyright Office but according to the U.S. Library of Congress was not renewed, putting it in the public domain in the United States and countries which adopted the rule of the shorter term.

Dali Atomicus (1948) by Halsman in an unretouched version, showing the devices which held up the various props and missing the painting in the frame on the easel.

According to Behind the photo, here is how this famous photo was taken:
The photographer counts: One… His wife Yvonne holds the chair up. Two… The assistants get ready with the water and the cats. Three… The assistants throw the cats from the right and the bucket of water from the left. Four… Salvador Dali jumps… and miliseconds later—Philippe Halsman takes the photo. Click!… Actually—28 times "Click!".
After the photo is taken: the photographer goes to the darkroom to develop it; the assistants mop the floor, catch and calm down the cats; Yvonne and Dali rest and wait for yet another shoot. As Halsman wrote in his book Halsman on the Creation of Photographic Ideas, "Six hours and twenty-eight throws later, the result satisfied my striving for perfection. (…) My assistants and I were wet, dirty, and near complete exhaustion—only the cats still looked like new".

(via Wikipedia and Behind the photo)

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