Dali Atomicus water confusion

Bleurgh. Cold. Inevitable really, given that everybody around me has been going down for weeks. Lemsip ftw.

I’m giving a presentation on the photographer Philippe Halsman this Friday. This is probably his most famous image, Dali Atomicus:

Dali Atomicus

A collaboration between him and the pictured Salvador Dali, it’s possibly the most famous surrealist photograph1. If you look at a larger version, the position of the cats mirrors their image in the left-hand painting. It’s a wonder the shot took ‘only’ 28 attempts (with a darkroom development period between each). I always feel sorry for the cats.

But here’s what’s confusing me: the water. If the picture truly is a one-shot affair with no manipulation, it’s a very odd result – the path of the water doesn’t conform to Newtonian gravity. The obvious possibility is an assistant with a bucket moving the path, but the shot’s apparent short shutter-speed seems to rule this out. The most plausible method is suggested here: the person threw the water then got the hell of out the frame. That seems unlikely, looking at the scale of the room, but might be possible. Or maybe the water was released above the frame? Would water retain that kind of a path when falling? Given the disruption of the stream by the uppermost cat, the water must have been ‘spread’ from left to right. It’s much thinner towards the bottom left, which is curious.

There are wider-angle shots, but nothing that gives any hints. I think I need experiments to figure out how this was done, but they might not go down well in the university studios…:-)

  1. prepared to be proven wrong on this []