It took photographer Philippe Halsman and artist Salvador Dalí 28 tries to achieve the playful weightlessness of Dalí Atomicus. Halsman met Dalí and other artists in the Surrealist circle while he was living in Paris in the 1930s. In the late 1940s, the two men began to collaborate on a variety of photographic projects. Dalí Atomicus, perhaps the most iconic image to emerge from this collaboration, is a portrait of the artist inspired by his painting, Leda Atomica (1949), which appears in the composition’s right-hand corner—hanging suspended above the ground like the easel, chair, stepstool, cats, water, and Dalí himself.
Halsman photographed some of the most celebrated figures of the mid-20th century, from artists to movie stars to politicians. He began his career photographing for fashion magazines and cosmetics companies, later venturing into photojournalism, with 101 Life magazine covers to his credit. His closely cropped, sharply focused portraits were infused with warmth and a sense of humor, evincing his ability to make his subjects feel comfortable in front of the camera.