Photography is all about innovation. Capturing truth and the beauty of truth is the ultimate goal of photography. Sometimes, truth is not so obvious and we have to devise a method to bring it to the fore. Philippe Halsman, the photographer of Dali Atomicus, had found his own such way.
Halsman was known for taking pictures of jumping people. For photo sessions he made a number of celebrities and powerful people jump! But in the process, Philippe Halsman, a Latvian-born American photographer left an indelible mark in the history of photography. Halsman once commented, “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.”
Today’s photograph, called Dali Atomicus, is perhaps Halsman’s most famous photograph. In 1940s Halsman had begun to collaborate with a surrealist painter named Salvador Dali. This photograph was named after Dali and one of his paintings called Leda Atomica.
The painting was still not finished at the time of taking the photo and is visible behind cats on right hand side. The entire effect in the photo was achieved by suspending objects like chair and painting, throwing bucketful of water… and cats in air, and a jumping Dali. Yes, the man in the picture is Salvador Dali. It took six hours, 28 jumps, and a roomful of assistants throwing angry cats and buckets of water into the air to get the perfect exposure.
The photograph also refers to the recent discovery of those times that all the matter hangs in a constant state of suspension. Halsman developed a philosophy of jump photography, which he called jumpology. He published Philippe Halsman’s Jump Book in 1959, which contained a tongue-in-cheek discussion of jumpology and 178 photographs of celebrity jumpers.
His 1961 book Halsman on the Creation of Photographic Ideas, discussed the ways for photographers to produce unusual pieces of work, by following three rules:
- The rule of the unusual technique
- The rule of the added unusual feature
- The rule of the missing feature
Celebrities photographed by Halsman include Alfred Hitchcock, Judy Garland, Winston Churchill, Dorothy Dandridge, and Pablo Picasso, Ford family, The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Marilyn Monroe, Maria Felix and Richard Nixon. Many of these photographs appeared on the cover of LIFE magazine.
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