In 1951, Salvador Dali, everyone’s favorite mustachioed surrealist, teamed up with Magnum photographer Philippe Halsman to create one of the most enchanting, morbid and bizarre photographs of all time. Entitled “In Voluptas Mors,” or Voluptuous Death, the black-and-white photo stars a melange of women, expertly arranged to resemble a macabre skull. Dali stands next to the literal human skull, quizzically eyeing the viewer like some sort of dubious ringmaster.
Halsman and Dali originally met in 1941, and embarked on a series of collaborations over the next 30 years, including a compendium of Dali’s famed mustaches. (We’re glad to know Halsman had the same appreciation for them that we do.) Yet no work has the legacy of “Voluptuous Death,” which combines Halsman’s knack for stunning psychological portraiture with a little Dali-esque weirdness. A cache of photographs delving behind-the-scenes of the iconic artwork has recently resurfaced, showing that arranging a bunch of clothes-less people into the shape of a skull is no easy feat.
See three phases of the work in action, starting with Dali arranging his models and ending with the image we all know and love.