Categories: Cats in Art

Photographer recreates Philippe Halsman’s Dali Atomicus without the cats

Photography aficionados will remember the famous Philippe Halsman photograph taken in 1948 called “Dali Atomicus”. It is a surreal black-and-white photograph of very high quality and pictures Dali in mid-air as are all the other objects in the photograph including three cats which were thrown together with a bucket of water across the image.

Dali Atomicus. The original with the three cats by the renown photographer Philippe Halsman in 1948

In the new photograph, recreated by photographer Karl Taylor, he deliberately and perhaps at the insistence of the BBC replaced the three cats with a Daliesque object: a distorted clockface. I also believe that he added grain to the image to make it more authentic.

Karl Taylor’s recreation of Halsman’s Dali Atomicus without the cats

The photograph was conducted in front of BBC cameras for a television program. In fact Karl Taylor did a wonderful job. I love the precision and he admits that it was very difficult to recreate. He would have used a modern digital camera and it would have been one which takes very high definition images (perhaps over 50 mega pixels), which allowed him to photograph the entire set including his assistants. He then cropped the image substantially to replicate the original Philippe Halsman photograph. The lighting is very accurately recreated.

However, there are many comments on the webpage where this photograph is discussed ( and they nearly all discuss the cats. This is the primary interest for me in this photograph. The discussion turns on whether it was cruel to use cats in the original photograph. The BBC would not have allowed cats to be used today. This demonstrates how the world has changed for the better with respect to animal welfare.

It is arguable whether the cats were treated that badly. It is not certain that they were although they were thrown quite a distance and it seems that one of them was inside the bucket of water. But cats always land on their feet so although they were abused and used it was not a very severe example of cat abuse. However, the original photo shoot by Philippe Halsman was limited in one respect because he could not keep throwing cats in the air indefinitely. They had a limit and became unmanageable. I believe that this happened in the original photo shoot. To be clear, I believe that the cats were abused in the Halsman photograph. If a photographer tried to do it today, there might be a problem with law enforcement.

The Philippe Halsman photograph is iconic and represents another era. Mr Halsman, judging by the quality of his image, would have used large format black-and-white camera, (perhaps 5X4). He may have used Polaroid in order to check his progress in creating the final product. I don’t know. There were quite a number of failures and it would have taken a lot of time to set up each shot. In contrast, Karl Taylor, using a digital camera would have found it easier as the photograph can be reviewed instantly and his camera’s sensor would have been more sensitive to light than the film used by Halsman but despite these advantages he rightly says that it was very difficult to recreate.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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  • Someone would have to explain the significance of the images in the photos. I consider myself artistic but I don't get it.

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