Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Take 28, Throw the Cats

 How the Famous "Dali Atomicus" Photo Was Taken  Friday, April 5, 2013

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)

“The Photograph That Made the Surreal Real Philippe Halsman is quite possibly the only photographer to have made a career out of taking portraits of people jumping. But he claimed the act of leaping revealed his subjects’ true selves, and looking at his most famous jump, "Dalí Atomicus," it’s pretty hard to disagree. The photograph is Halsman’s homage both to the new atomic age (prompted by physicist’ then-recent announcement that all matter hangs in a constant state of suspension) and to Dalí’s surrealist masterpiece "Leda Atomica" (seen on the right, behind the cats, and unfinished at the time). 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. But before settling on the "Atomicus" we know today, Halsman rejected a number of other concepts for the shot. One was the idea of throwing milk instead of water, but that was abandoned for fear that viewers, fresh from the privations of World War II, would condemn it as a waste of milk. Another involved exploding a cat in order to capture it "in suspension," though that arguably would have been a waste of cats.

Halsman’s methods were as unique as they were effective. His celebrity "jump" portraits appeared on at least seven Life magazine covers and helped usher in a new – and radically more adventurous – era of portrait photography.”

Yeah, well.  It’s a cool photo, no doubt.  But it was probably not so cool for the cats.  Nowadays, one would train the cats for the jumps, and see that they were accustomed to the whole scenario, so they would not be hurt or frightened.  Some may pooh-pooh this, but in my estimation, it takes nothing away from the end product, and saves the cats from being injured or traumatized.  

If we were to make the movie “Ben Hur” over again there would be no horses or stunt men killed.  Really, if we can make a film like “Mad Max: Fury Road” without murdering stuntmen, then we could make this photo – even without Photoshop, without terrorizing animals. 

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