Before There Was Photoshop, There Was Philippe: 20 Amazing Portraits of Salvador Dalí Taken by Philippe Halsman

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“When Philippe had an idea, Dalí was always willing to oblige and be the protagonist.” – Irene Halsman, the photographer’s daughter.

One of the longest and most celebrated creative partnerships in art history was the one between portrait photographer Philippe Halsman and Surrealist painter Salvador Dalí. Having first met in 1941, Halsman and Dalí embarked on a creative partnership that lasted for 37 years and resulted in thousands of pictures.
Humor fueled the longevity of Halsman’s friendship and collaborative spark with Dalí. Neither shied away from what others may have thought outrageous. In Halsman’s New York studio, the two men would ‘play’ – their term for putting their avant-garde ideas and scenarios into practice.
From making Dalí appear as the Mona Lisa to placing him inside the melting clocks of the The Persistence of Memory (1931), Halsman always found an answer to Dalí’s challenges, even when the idea revolved around an atomic bomb.
“How are you going to show an explosion?” Irene told Magnum Photos. “My father thought about it for a while and came up with a marvelous answer. He bought a rectangular fish tank about a foot and a half long and filled it. The night before the photo shoot, he tried his idea, using my sister Jane as a substitute. The following day, Dalí put his head in the fish tank, held a gulp of milk in his mouth, then spit it out, forming a perfect atomic cloud. Who else but my father would think of that innovative creative solution?”
One of these playful photographic sessions provided the genesis for the book Dalí’s Mustache (1954). Admiring the length of Dalí’s mustache, which at the time reached the Surrealist’s eyebrows, Halsman declared that “Since nobody ever made a book on Van Gogh’s ear or Rembrandt’s nose, I’m going to make one on Dalí’s mustache!’”
The book explores not only the versatility of Dalí’s trademark mustache but Halsman’s ability to think outside the parameters of traditional portraiture. After months of plotting their ideas, the two men came together to create the final images. “When Philippe had an idea, Dalí was always willing to oblige and be the protagonist. And when Dalí had a request like ‘Make me the Mona Lisa,’ Philippe would figure it out. He was also very inventive and imaginative.”

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