After meeting in New York in 1941, surrealist artist Salvador Dalí and Latvian-born photographer Phillipe Halsman began a three-decade partnership. The most notable and iconic of their projects is this playful tableau, “Dalí Atomicus,” in which Dalí, his canvas, furniture, cats, and water all appear suspended in air. It took 28 takes to complete the photograph, each time throwing cats, water, and the chair up in the air. The canvases were suspended by wire and, of course, Dalí had to jump each time. According to Halsman, everyone involved in the project was exhausted at the end – except the cats.
It was 1948 then and the world was afraid of nuclear war. Dalí was in his Nuclear Mysticism stage and obsessing over the atom. Initially, he and Halsman had considered blowing up a chicken and photographing it, but nixed it – for the obvious PR reasons.