Philippe Halsman was a photographer. Born on May 2nd 1906 as Филипп Халсман in the Russian Empire, he died 1979 in New York City. His path led him from Riga in the Russian Empire to Dresden, Germany where he studied, to Austria, where he was sentenced to prison, to France where his work started to appear in fashion magazines, to finally end up in the United States as the war broke out, helped by Albert Einstein, who was a family friend. He is consequently known as an American portrait photographer.
My interest in Halsman came through his collaboration with Salvador Dali that began in the late 1940s. The most famous piece of their collaboration is a photograph called Dali Atomicus, published in 1948. It took them 28 attempts to get it right. Here is the unretouched version of the photograph:
The photograph shows three cats, the splash from a bucket of water, Salvador Dali in mid-air, and Dali’s painting Leda Atomica in the corner. The title (Dali Atomicus) is a reference to the Dali’s painting (Leda Atomica).
A funny bit of information is that the year of Dali’s Leda Atomica is, internet-wide, released as 1949, which would certainly make the above photograph even more surrealistic! So according to Wikipedia, Answers.com, and dozens of other websites, the photograph shows a painting that hasn’t yet been painted… Of course if anyone would care to look again and cross-examine a bit, they would see that Leda Atomica is actually estimated between 1947 and 1949 which does indeed make the above 1948 photograph possible. Not so surrealistic after all.
An Ode to Facial Adornment
Dali and Halsman went on to publish a book together in 1954 called “Dali’s Mustache”. The book shows us 36 views of the artist’s immortal facial adornment. Here are a couple of the photographs from the book:
From the book description: “As Halsman explains in his postface, Dali’s Mustache is the fruit of this marriage of the minds. The jointly conceived and seemingly nonsensical questions and answers reveal the gleeful humor and assumed cynicism for which Dali is famous, while the marvelous and inspired images of Dali’s mustache brilliantly display Halsman’s consummate skill and extraordinary inventiveness as a photographer.
This combination of wit, absurdity, and the offhandedly profound is irresistible and has contributed to the enduring fascination inspired by this unique photographic interview, which has become a cult classic and valuable collector’s item since its original publication in 1954. The present volume faithfully reproduces the first edition and will introduce a new generation to the irreverent humor and imaginative genius of two great artists.”
By the way, here is the official and finished version of Dali Atomicus: