Power of Photography

by Haley Bice 6 months ago in art


Power of Photography

“No photograph ever changed anything all by itself, for photographs are highly dependent creatures and their influence is entirely contingent on words, circumstances, distribution, and belief systems “ is quoted from ‘under the influence of photography’ by Goldberg. This quote explains a lot about why the photograph ‘Dali Atomicus’ by Phillippe Halsman has a great cultural significance. It has such an importance culturally because it not only explains a lot about physics, looking inside the idea of suspension, but it also has a cultural impact because of the context behind the image and its important message. The photograph’s message seems to be that if you work hard, the product you end up with will be worth it. This image affects me personally because of the message it portrays in such a joyful way.

Phillipe Halsman created his image Dali Atomicus, named after the piece in the backgrounf- Leda Atomica, in 1948 by throwing water and cats into the air while taking the photograph along with his friend Salvador Dalí, the person jumping in the image. The name Leda Atomica is the name of the image in the background that Salvador Dali created. Halsman reported, “it took [him] 28 times” to create the correct image. This shows that you need to work very hard if you want to produce something that is good and what you put into something is what you will get out of it. He also thought about throwing milk rather than water because then the liquid would not be so transparent, but during the time when he took the photograph (after world war two), he feared his audience would think it a waste of milk. I think this is also an important piece in any art: to consider your audience.

Life magazine used many of Halsman’s images and frequently those images showed glamorous people, and always people jumping. He said, “When you ask a person to jump, his attention is mostly directed toward the act of jumping and the mask falls so that the real person appears” and his goal became to capture this ‘real’ aspect of everyone he photographed- including many famous individuals of his time. His other images are also usually quite joyful, but I chose this image for the complexity of it- the fact that you can tell he put a lot of work into his image.

Compositionally, the image works very well because it has a surrealist quality. It would not look as nice, for instance, if the Dali and the chair were on the ground. This ‘floating’ part of the image also adds to the joy the image portrays. Culturally the surrealist quality shows a lot about the time period- people were probably sick of looking at images of war heroes and victims, so that when the war was over the populous wanted to see something a little more abstract and different. I also think the smile on Dali’s face adds to the joy of the image, making it much more interesting than if it were a fearful expression (although that could be an interesting pair to the fearful looking cats.) The Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery says, “In Paris, Halsman studied the work of other artists and photographers, especially the surrealists, from whom he learned to make images that surprised his viewers. By including homely, and ultimately disturbing, details, he gave his subjects memorable tension. Through subtle lighting, sharp focus, and close cropping, he turned formal fashion shots into serious investigations of character.” These details explained by the Smithsonian also go back to the idea that one must put in effort into their work, because the little things Halsman includes in his image are probably the most time consuming, but they are what make his images interesting.

Halsman created six rules in order to create a successful image and these rules I think also explain how he added the important little details to his photos. They were “the rule of the direct approach," "the rule of the unusual technique," "the rule of the added unusual feature," "the rule of the missing feature," "the rule of compounded features," and "the rule of the literal or ideographic method.” He explains that creating a strong piece of work means being straightforward, but taking something ordinary and making it interesting. He says that to make an image interesting you use photographic techniques like lighting (or what I would call the little things he adds to his photographs) and do something to attract an audience by going against their expectations. Finally, he says you need to be original and illustrate a message. These aspects are not only what makes his images interesting, they are what keeps his images important culturally because he made them important. He made them have an important message that he wanted to convey, which is also probably why he had so many photographs in life magazine- because the photos themselves tell a story.


Edwards, Owen. "When He Said "Jump..."" Smithsonian Magazine. The Smithsonian Institution, Oct. 2006. Web. 14 Apr. 2012. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/when-he-said-jump-130897523/

Jones, Jonathan. "Alfred Hitchcock, Philippe Halsman (1963)." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 08 June 2001. Web. 14 Apr. 2012. http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2001/jun/09/art

Panzer, Mary. "Phillippe Halsman: A Retrospective." The National Portrait Gallery. The Smithsonian Institution, 6 Nov. 1998. Web. 14 Apr. 2012. http://www.npg.si.edu/exh/halsman/intro.htm

Riggs, Ransom. "13 Photographs That Changed the World." Neatorama. Mental Floss Magazine, Jan.-Feb. 2007. Web. 14 Apr. 2012. http://www.neatorama.com/2007/01/02/13-photographs-that-changed-the-world/

Haley Bice
Haley Bice
Read next: 4 Ways To Find Inspiration As A Beginner Photographer
Haley Bice

Haley received her MA in Business Design and Arts Leadership from SCAD eLearning in 2018. She also has a BA in Art History with a Fine Art minor from SCSU and an ASc in Graphic Design from RCTC, both located in Minnesota.

See all posts by Haley Bice