While nearly every photographer I’ve known handles negatives with their bare hands, nearly every curator puts on white cotton gloves. Yvonne Halsman, widow and collaborator of Philippe Halsman, hesitated a moment before I photographed her. She wondered aloud what would be proper and decided both would.
Forty-four years earlier, her husband and Salvador Dali had hung one of Dali’s paintings on the right in their studio and then suspended an easel with a blank canvas in the center,
When everything was ready, Mrs. Halsman held up a chair on the left. Two assistants tossed three cats into the air while a third assistant threw water from a pail. Dali jumped, and Mr. Halsman clicked.
Twenty-six tosses, jumps and clicks later (each followed by floor mopping, cat catching and film developing), they got it right. Mr. Halsman made a print from the negative, and on that print, where the blank canvas appeared, Dali painted a nude woman supine below airborne cats. Mr. Halsman photographed that print, and the copy was published and became famous. The original negative of the photograph has not been needed since.
John Loengard, Celebrating the Negative is available to museums as a touring exhibition from Curatorial Assistance.
Celebrating the Negative
by John Loengard
Release in 1994
Published by Arcade Publishing