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Philippe Halsman, Dalì Skull

1951

silver gelatin photographic print on paper

Inventory number 2043

This image is the result of a collaboration between photographer Philippe Halsman and artist Salvador Dalì.  They worked together to create this image, inspired from a sketch drawn by Dalì. This photograph is one of nearly 30 prints that make up this suite of images.

Philippe Halsman was one of the pioneers of experimental photography. At this time there was no digital photography.  Images could only be modified by using different lens and filters or during the printing process by altering the tonal contrast, paper type and by overlaying negatives during the development process. This image required a special scaffold to be built so the seven women could be positioned to create the illusion of a skull. Notice the feet of the women in this image are brighter than other areas of the image to create the idea of teeth in the skull. This shoot is reported to have taken 3 hours.

Describing his collaboration with Dali, Halsman wrote in 1972, that they created “images that did not exist, except in our imaginations. Whenever I needed a striking protagonist for one of my wild ideas, Dali would graciously oblige. Whenever Dali thought of a photograph so strange that it seemed impossible to produce, I tried to find a solution.”

Dali Skull (Voluptas Mors, which means desirable death) is one of those “impossible” images.

Of Dali Skull Dali said, “I value death greatly. After eroticism, it’s a subject that interests me the most”. When Dali uses the words “value” and “interests” it describes his fascination and fear with death and sex. Like many of Dali’s works, this photograph contains something beautiful and at the same time unsettling. Dali himself looks perplexed.