Philippe Halsman made his career out of taking portraits of people jumping, an act which he maintained revealed his subjects’ true selves.
This Dali photograph is Halsman’s homage both to the new atomic age (physicists had recently announced that all matter hangs in a constant state of suspension) and to Dalí’s surrealist masterpiece “Leda Atomica” (which hangs on the right, behind the cats, and unfinished at the time). In 1941 Halsman met the surrealist Salvador Dalí and they began to collaborate in the late 1940s.
Halsman reported that it took 28 attempts to be satisfied with the result. Halsman and Dali eventually released a compendium of their collaborations in the 1954 book Dali’s Mustache, which also featured 36 different views of the artist’s distinctive mustache. Halsman’s wife, Yvonne, held the chair, on the count of three, his assistants threw three increasingly angry cats and a bucket of water into the air; and on the count of four, Dali jumped and Halsman snapped the picture. It was that simple, said Halsman, but it nonetheless took six hours.
Halsman’s original idea is to use an opaque liquid (milk) but it was abandoned for fear that viewers, fresh from the privations of World War II, would condemn it as a waste of milk. Another idea involved exploding a cat in order to capture it “in suspension.”