• <em>Edgerton Observes Baton Twirl,</em> 1965<br>
pigment print<br>
6 x 7.5 inches<br>
Edgerton often worked at MIT’s athletic center when the scale of the activity required a much larger “laboratory.” This photo documents the setup and preparation for a series of studies of baton tosses, showing the observer and his tools and subject. The duration of nearly a second reveals the concentration of both observer and observed.

      Harold Egerton—Flash Revelations

      Edgerton Observes Baton Twirl, 1965
      pigment print
      6 x 7.5 inches
      Edgerton often worked at MIT’s athletic center when the scale of the activity required a much larger “laboratory.” This photo documents the setup and preparation for a series of studies of baton tosses, showing the observer and his tools and subject. The duration of nearly a second reveals the concentration of both observer and observed.

    • <em>Milk Drop Series,</em> 1933<br>
gelatin silver print<br>
9 x 10 inches<br>
An incredible demonstration of the surprises of nature, these twelve images – from a thirty-six-frame sequence – show the transformation of an egg-shaped droplet into a coronet. The unassisted observer would simply see a drop of milk landing on a surface – an unmemorable, everyday occurrence.

      Harold Egerton—Flash Revelations

      Milk Drop Series, 1933
      gelatin silver print
      9 x 10 inches
      An incredible demonstration of the surprises of nature, these twelve images – from a thirty-six-frame sequence – show the transformation of an egg-shaped droplet into a coronet. The unassisted observer would simply see a drop of milk landing on a surface – an unmemorable, everyday occurrence.

    • <em>Mrs Webster and Her Hummingbirds,</em> 1936<br>
gelatin silver print<br>
12 x 13 inches<br>
In 1936, at the urging of his friend and mentor, Vannevar Bush, Edgerton first visited the home of Mae and Laurence Webster in Holderness, New Hampshire. Mae Webster had created a paradise for hummingbirds, even training them to feed from hand-held vials, as seen in this photograph. Edgerton became a frequent visitor to Holderness, making photographs and motion pictures of the hummingbirds and other birds in flight. When his photographs began to appear in National Geographic and other publications, bird photographers sought his advice in adapting the stroboscopic technique to their own work. The exposure of l/l00, 000th of a second, not possible before Edgerton

      Harold Egerton—Flash Revelations

      Mrs Webster and Her Hummingbirds, 1936
      gelatin silver print
      12 x 13 inches
      In 1936, at the urging of his friend and mentor, Vannevar Bush, Edgerton first visited the home of Mae and Laurence Webster in Holderness, New Hampshire. Mae Webster had created a paradise for hummingbirds, even training them to feed from hand-held vials, as seen in this photograph. Edgerton became a frequent visitor to Holderness, making photographs and motion pictures of the hummingbirds and other birds in flight. When his photographs began to appear in National Geographic and other publications, bird photographers sought his advice in adapting the stroboscopic technique to their own work. The exposure of l/l00, 000th of a second, not possible before Edgerton's electronic flash, caught this first picture of hummingbirds in action. Since their wings beat sixty times per second, accurate observations of hummingbirds' activities had previously eluded naturalists.

    • <em>Fighting Finches,</em> 1936<br>
gelatin silver print<br>
16 x 20 inches<br>
Interrupted at a windowsill feeder, an angry purple finch fights off an uninvited intruder.

      Harold Egerton—Flash Revelations

      Fighting Finches, 1936
      gelatin silver print
      16 x 20 inches
      Interrupted at a windowsill feeder, an angry purple finch fights off an uninvited intruder.

    • <em>Atomic Bomb,<br> 1952<br>
gelatin silver print<br>
18 x 14 inches<br>
Revealing the incredible anatomy of the very first microseconds of an atomic explosion at the Atomic Energy Commission’s Nevada Proving Grounds, this ominous fireball–so like a skull–was documented from a safe distance of seven miles. The tower and guy wires supporting the bomb are still visible, but the intense heat of the explosion will vaporize them shortly and turn the sand beneath to glass. This photograph was taken with a magneto-optic shutter, commercially produced by EG & G as part of the “Rapatronic” camera. The Rapatronic, developed with his long-time colleague and former student, Charles Wyckoff, had no moving parts. Instead, it used the discovery, made by 19th-century physicist Michael Faraday, that the magnetic field created by an electric current can rotate the planes of polarization in polarized filters. When current was applied to the Rapatronic’s polarized discs, which were lined up at 90° angles to each other to effectively block out all light, the planes of polarization would rotate 180° and, for a split second in passing, would be aligned instead of crossed. At that moment only, intense light could reach the film, making exposures of as little as two microseconds possible.</em>

      Harold Egerton—Flash Revelations

      Atomic Bomb,
      1952
      gelatin silver print
      18 x 14 inches
      Revealing the incredible anatomy of the very first microseconds of an atomic explosion at the Atomic Energy Commission’s Nevada Proving Grounds, this ominous fireball–so like a skull–was documented from a safe distance of seven miles. The tower and guy wires supporting the bomb are still visible, but the intense heat of the explosion will vaporize them shortly and turn the sand beneath to glass. This photograph was taken with a magneto-optic shutter, commercially produced by EG & G as part of the “Rapatronic” camera. The Rapatronic, developed with his long-time colleague and former student, Charles Wyckoff, had no moving parts. Instead, it used the discovery, made by 19th-century physicist Michael Faraday, that the magnetic field created by an electric current can rotate the planes of polarization in polarized filters. When current was applied to the Rapatronic’s polarized discs, which were lined up at 90° angles to each other to effectively block out all light, the planes of polarization would rotate 180° and, for a split second in passing, would be aligned instead of crossed. At that moment only, intense light could reach the film, making exposures of as little as two microseconds possible.

    • <em>Death of Lightbulb,</em> ca. 1935<br>
gelatin silver print<br>
16 x 20 inches<br>
Death of a Light Bulb is from a series of four photographs, one of which is on view in this exhibition. It reveals what happens when a .30-caliber bullet traveling at approximately 2,700 feet per second (over 1,800 miles per hour) encounters an electric light bulb. Whole light bulbs and complete face cards or aces were rarely to be found in the MIT Strobe Lab.

      Harold Egerton—Flash Revelations

      Death of Lightbulb, ca. 1935
      gelatin silver print
      16 x 20 inches
      Death of a Light Bulb is from a series of four photographs, one of which is on view in this exhibition. It reveals what happens when a .30-caliber bullet traveling at approximately 2,700 feet per second (over 1,800 miles per hour) encounters an electric light bulb. Whole light bulbs and complete face cards or aces were rarely to be found in the MIT Strobe Lab.

    • <em>Stonehenge at Night,</em> 1944<br>
gelatin silver print<br>
11 x 17 inches<br>
Illuminated by a one second, 50,000 watt flash in the bay of a night-flying airplane 1,500 feet above the ancient monoliths, Edgerton’s pictures of Stonehenge served as a demonstration to the Allied commanders of the potential for nighttime reconnaissance photography. Edgerton was on the ground with a folding pocket camera braced on a fence post as the plane flew overhead. Simultaneously, the monument was recorded in perfect detail by a camera in the plane. The target was chosen because it was remote enough to allow the equipment to be tested without arousing unwanted interest. Edgerton has maintained an active curiosity about Stonehenge since he took this picture, which has appeared in virtually every publication about the monoliths.

      Harold Egerton—Flash Revelations

      Stonehenge at Night, 1944
      gelatin silver print
      11 x 17 inches
      Illuminated by a one second, 50,000 watt flash in the bay of a night-flying airplane 1,500 feet above the ancient monoliths, Edgerton’s pictures of Stonehenge served as a demonstration to the Allied commanders of the potential for nighttime reconnaissance photography. Edgerton was on the ground with a folding pocket camera braced on a fence post as the plane flew overhead. Simultaneously, the monument was recorded in perfect detail by a camera in the plane. The target was chosen because it was remote enough to allow the equipment to be tested without arousing unwanted interest. Edgerton has maintained an active curiosity about Stonehenge since he took this picture, which has appeared in virtually every publication about the monoliths.

    • <em>Bullet Through Banana,</em> 1964<br>
dye transfer<br>
14 x 16 inches

      Harold Egerton—Flash Revelations

      Bullet Through Banana, 1964
      dye transfer
      14 x 16 inches

    • <em>Dye Drop Into Milk,</em> 1960<br>
dye transfer<br>
14 x 17 inches

      Harold Egerton—Flash Revelations

      Dye Drop Into Milk, 1960
      dye transfer
      14 x 17 inches

    • <em>Milk Drop Coronet,</em> 1957<br>
dye transfer<br>
20 x 24 inches<br>
Falling from a pipette, the first drop of milk creates a disc-shaped layer into which a second drop splashes, catapulting the milk into a diadem (about one half-inch in diameter). Taken in 1957, this image is the culmination of Edgerton’s twenty-five-year search for aesthetic perfection. Since 1932, Edgerton had been dissatisfied with his attempts to capture perfectly uniform tips on the crown, but others have judged him more generously: “We can instantly recall it: the drop of milk splashing against a red and shadowy background, frozen as a white, unworldly, porcelain crown by the camera and strobe. It is an image of intensity and subtlety, of show and substance, of beauty and precision. It surprises and delights us, not least because it rewards our hope that art and technology can come together with a lightness of touch. The photograph can stand for the man.” (Citation for the Eugene McDermott Award of the Council for the Arts at MIT.)

      Harold Egerton—Flash Revelations

      Milk Drop Coronet, 1957
      dye transfer
      20 x 24 inches
      Falling from a pipette, the first drop of milk creates a disc-shaped layer into which a second drop splashes, catapulting the milk into a diadem (about one half-inch in diameter). Taken in 1957, this image is the culmination of Edgerton’s twenty-five-year search for aesthetic perfection. Since 1932, Edgerton had been dissatisfied with his attempts to capture perfectly uniform tips on the crown, but others have judged him more generously: “We can instantly recall it: the drop of milk splashing against a red and shadowy background, frozen as a white, unworldly, porcelain crown by the camera and strobe. It is an image of intensity and subtlety, of show and substance, of beauty and precision. It surprises and delights us, not least because it rewards our hope that art and technology can come together with a lightness of touch. The photograph can stand for the man.” (Citation for the Eugene McDermott Award of the Council for the Arts at MIT.)

    • <em>Bullet Through Candle Flame,</em> 1973<br>
dye transfer<br>
18 x 12 inches<br>
Kim Vandiver, then a student of Edgerton’s at MIT, assisted Edgerton in a search for equipment in MIT storage rooms. They came across a pair of beautifully polished concave mirrors that struck a chord. These seemed ideal for use in an obscure optical study, which Edgerton thought to be just the kind of project Vandiver would relish. The photograph shows the change in density in the vicinity of a candle flame further distorted by a supersonic bullet passing through that flame. The Schlieren method makes the changes in density of air or other gas colorfully visible. Heat and pressure both change the density; thus, this photograph is particularly insightful.

      Harold Egerton—Flash Revelations

      Bullet Through Candle Flame, 1973
      dye transfer
      18 x 12 inches
      Kim Vandiver, then a student of Edgerton’s at MIT, assisted Edgerton in a search for equipment in MIT storage rooms. They came across a pair of beautifully polished concave mirrors that struck a chord. These seemed ideal for use in an obscure optical study, which Edgerton thought to be just the kind of project Vandiver would relish. The photograph shows the change in density in the vicinity of a candle flame further distorted by a supersonic bullet passing through that flame. The Schlieren method makes the changes in density of air or other gas colorfully visible. Heat and pressure both change the density; thus, this photograph is particularly insightful.

    • <em>Bullet Through the Apple,</em> 1964<br>
dye transfer<br>
16 x 20 inches<br>
This startling image first illustrated a lecture by Edgerton, "How to Make Applesauce at MIT." The apple disintegrates completely moments after impact of the .30 caliber bullet. What is so surprising is that the entry of the supersonic bullet is as visually explosive as the exit.

      Harold Egerton—Flash Revelations

      Bullet Through the Apple, 1964
      dye transfer
      16 x 20 inches
      This startling image first illustrated a lecture by Edgerton, "How to Make Applesauce at MIT." The apple disintegrates completely moments after impact of the .30 caliber bullet. What is so surprising is that the entry of the supersonic bullet is as visually explosive as the exit.

    • <em>Cutting the Card Quickly,</em> 1964<br>
dye transfer<br>
16 x 20 inches<br>
A .30 caliber bullet, traveling 2,800 feet per second, requires an exposure of less than 1/1,000,000 of a second to ensure the bullet is captured in the photograph before it exits the camera frame. Edgerton outdid the gun-slinging heroes of western movies by turning the card sideways when he shot through it. The rifling of the barrel caused the rotation of the projectile, which in turn carved out the S-shaped slice of card between the resultant upper and lower pieces of the card.

      Harold Egerton—Flash Revelations

      Cutting the Card Quickly, 1964
      dye transfer
      16 x 20 inches
      A .30 caliber bullet, traveling 2,800 feet per second, requires an exposure of less than 1/1,000,000 of a second to ensure the bullet is captured in the photograph before it exits the camera frame. Edgerton outdid the gun-slinging heroes of western movies by turning the card sideways when he shot through it. The rifling of the barrel caused the rotation of the projectile, which in turn carved out the S-shaped slice of card between the resultant upper and lower pieces of the card.

    • <em>Fanning the Cards,</em> 1940<br>
gelatin silver print<br>
11 x 14 inches<br>
Faster than the eye, but not the flash. An expert flips the cards from hand to hand, controlling their flight with thumb and forefinger. This photograph was taken during Edgerton’s Oscar-winning work at MGM Studios on the film "Quicker ‘N a Wink!"

      Harold Egerton—Flash Revelations

      Fanning the Cards, 1940
      gelatin silver print
      11 x 14 inches
      Faster than the eye, but not the flash. An expert flips the cards from hand to hand, controlling their flight with thumb and forefinger. This photograph was taken during Edgerton’s Oscar-winning work at MGM Studios on the film "Quicker ‘N a Wink!"

    • <em>Swirls and Eddies (Tennis Swing),</em> 1939<br>
gelatin silver print<br>
15 x 22 inches<br>
Clothed in black so that nothing shows but his face, hand, ball and racket, a player keeps his eye firmly on the ball as he follows through with a forehand drive. Upon close examination, the seeming blur of the racket is actually many clearly defined images overlapping; the black background caused by the draping of the athlete allows the motion to remain visibly separate from the body. The high flashing rate of 120 flashes per second caused this illusion of blur. Edgerton often quipped, “I was going to throw away this blurry image, but the Art Museum wanted it...” The Museum of Modern Art first collected his work in the mid 1930s and has continually add to their collection. Today, there are more than a hundred art museums internationally that collect and display Edgerton’s photographs.

      Harold Egerton—Flash Revelations

      Swirls and Eddies (Tennis Swing), 1939
      gelatin silver print
      15 x 22 inches
      Clothed in black so that nothing shows but his face, hand, ball and racket, a player keeps his eye firmly on the ball as he follows through with a forehand drive. Upon close examination, the seeming blur of the racket is actually many clearly defined images overlapping; the black background caused by the draping of the athlete allows the motion to remain visibly separate from the body. The high flashing rate of 120 flashes per second caused this illusion of blur. Edgerton often quipped, “I was going to throw away this blurry image, but the Art Museum wanted it...” The Museum of Modern Art first collected his work in the mid 1930s and has continually add to their collection. Today, there are more than a hundred art museums internationally that collect and display Edgerton’s photographs.

    • <em>Baton Multiflash (Ghost Feet),</em> 1953<br>
gelatin silver print<br>
22 x 18 inches<br>
With ghostly feet and only parts of her face showing, young Muriel Sutherland intently watches her baton as she throws it high in the air and moves rapidly forward to catch it. The multiflash was firing 60 times per second.

      Harold Egerton—Flash Revelations

      Baton Multiflash (Ghost Feet), 1953
      gelatin silver print
      22 x 18 inches
      With ghostly feet and only parts of her face showing, young Muriel Sutherland intently watches her baton as she throws it high in the air and moves rapidly forward to catch it. The multiflash was firing 60 times per second.

    • <em>Pete Desjardin Diving,</em> 1940<br>
gelatin silver print<br>
15 x 22 inches<br>
Desjardin dived into the newly completed MIT Pool in darkness. The multiflash, at 20 flashes per second, superimposed his image on itself in the early part of the dive; as gravity accelerated his body, the space between the flashes increased. This confusion of form, due to the overlapping of images, occurs because of the changing velocity of the body as it traveled downward. Edgerton tried to find ways to reduce such visual confusion and was able to overcome it with a special shutter that could be controlled manually, allowing fewer flashes during periods of slower movement. This photograph of Desjardin, however, makes the best of this drawback, as Desjardin evolves out of the peak of his dive, slicing into the dark water.

      Harold Egerton—Flash Revelations

      Pete Desjardin Diving, 1940
      gelatin silver print
      15 x 22 inches
      Desjardin dived into the newly completed MIT Pool in darkness. The multiflash, at 20 flashes per second, superimposed his image on itself in the early part of the dive; as gravity accelerated his body, the space between the flashes increased. This confusion of form, due to the overlapping of images, occurs because of the changing velocity of the body as it traveled downward. Edgerton tried to find ways to reduce such visual confusion and was able to overcome it with a special shutter that could be controlled manually, allowing fewer flashes during periods of slower movement. This photograph of Desjardin, however, makes the best of this drawback, as Desjardin evolves out of the peak of his dive, slicing into the dark water.

    • <em>Coin Toss,</em> 1965<br>
gelatin silver print<br>
20 x 24 inches<br>
With a flick of the thumb, a participant in another Edgerton Experience flips a U.S. quarter head over tail until it bounces from a tabletop. Doc enlisted his wife, Esther, Bill MacRoberts, friends and students, children and adults in the effort of tossing all kinds of coins while he made dozens of black & white and color exposures. While the strobe cannot predict which way the coin will ultimately land, everyone involved had a predictably interesting and educative time.

      Harold Egerton—Flash Revelations

      Coin Toss, 1965
      gelatin silver print
      20 x 24 inches
      With a flick of the thumb, a participant in another Edgerton Experience flips a U.S. quarter head over tail until it bounces from a tabletop. Doc enlisted his wife, Esther, Bill MacRoberts, friends and students, children and adults in the effort of tossing all kinds of coins while he made dozens of black & white and color exposures. While the strobe cannot predict which way the coin will ultimately land, everyone involved had a predictably interesting and educative time.

    • <em>Indian Club Demonstration, Multiflash,</em> 1939<br>
gelatin silver print<br>
16 x 19 inches<br>
Edgerton’s high-speed light, flashing 100 times per second, sharply delineates each moment of the sequence. The great Bauhaus artist László Moholy-Nagy was so intrigued by this example of the new vision that he traded prints with Edgerton at a Chicago lecture in 1939.

      Harold Egerton—Flash Revelations

      Indian Club Demonstration, Multiflash, 1939
      gelatin silver print
      16 x 19 inches
      Edgerton’s high-speed light, flashing 100 times per second, sharply delineates each moment of the sequence. The great Bauhaus artist László Moholy-Nagy was so intrigued by this example of the new vision that he traded prints with Edgerton at a Chicago lecture in 1939.

    • <em>Gussie Moran-Tennis Serve, Multiflash,</em> 1949<br>
gelatin silver print<br>
12 x 16 inches<br>
In 1949, Edgerton brought his strobes and other equipment to the Longwood Club to photograph the touring tennis stars. He was given a few minutes with each in an anteroom before they went out for their matches. Here, the outstanding British tennis player Gussie Moran tosses the ball into a perfect parabola for a power serve. Moran was especially well known for her sense of fashion style and her outfits - she refused to wear Doc’s black kimono. In a typically inventive reaction, he determined that he would photograph action outside of her brilliantly white-clad body. In so many of Edgerton’s best photographs, what seems like a perfect balance and form was a product of anticipation, timing, and much effort. Edgerton’s ability to reveal the surprise of content with beautiful form allows the viewer to discover more than simple visceral pleasure.

      Harold Egerton—Flash Revelations

      Gussie Moran-Tennis Serve, Multiflash, 1949
      gelatin silver print
      12 x 16 inches
      In 1949, Edgerton brought his strobes and other equipment to the Longwood Club to photograph the touring tennis stars. He was given a few minutes with each in an anteroom before they went out for their matches. Here, the outstanding British tennis player Gussie Moran tosses the ball into a perfect parabola for a power serve. Moran was especially well known for her sense of fashion style and her outfits - she refused to wear Doc’s black kimono. In a typically inventive reaction, he determined that he would photograph action outside of her brilliantly white-clad body. In so many of Edgerton’s best photographs, what seems like a perfect balance and form was a product of anticipation, timing, and much effort. Edgerton’s ability to reveal the surprise of content with beautiful form allows the viewer to discover more than simple visceral pleasure.

    • <em>Wes Fesler, Football Kick,</em> 1934<br>
gelatin silver print<br>
9.5 x 13 inches<br>
Wes Fesler was the football coach at Harvard and the most famous player of his time from Ohio State. Using the simplest of all synchronization methods, the football actually takes its own picture by pushing two wires together to complete a circuit. The dirt that was lodged in the top seam of the football hovers above its original location just as the ball was kicked. The boot penetrates more than half the diameter of the normally inflated ball.

      Harold Egerton—Flash Revelations

      Wes Fesler, Football Kick, 1934
      gelatin silver print
      9.5 x 13 inches
      Wes Fesler was the football coach at Harvard and the most famous player of his time from Ohio State. Using the simplest of all synchronization methods, the football actually takes its own picture by pushing two wires together to complete a circuit. The dirt that was lodged in the top seam of the football hovers above its original location just as the ball was kicked. The boot penetrates more than half the diameter of the normally inflated ball.

    • <em>Softball Batter,</em> 1938<br>
gelatin silver print<br>
14 x 11 inches<br>
The bat bends, the ball compresses. With his eye on the ball, Jim Dotson concentrates all his muscular power into this single stroke. Like many of Edgerton’s sports photographs involving hitting a ball, the impact sound was used to trigger the flash as the batter swung in a darkened room. The microphone is just outside of the right edge of the frame of the photograph. Dotson’s ability to make contact with the ball in the darkened room is a tribute to his concentration.

      Harold Egerton—Flash Revelations

      Softball Batter, 1938
      gelatin silver print
      14 x 11 inches
      The bat bends, the ball compresses. With his eye on the ball, Jim Dotson concentrates all his muscular power into this single stroke. Like many of Edgerton’s sports photographs involving hitting a ball, the impact sound was used to trigger the flash as the batter swung in a darkened room. The microphone is just outside of the right edge of the frame of the photograph. Dotson’s ability to make contact with the ball in the darkened room is a tribute to his concentration.

    • <em>Bullet Through Three Balloons,</em> 1959<br>
gelatin silver print<br>
13 x 17 inches<br>
In one single picture, we see three consecutive stages of the bursting of balloons by a .22 caliber bullet. The sound from the rifle firing was picked up with a microphone, which ultimately triggered the microflash at less than one millionth of a second duration. Only the strobe and Edgerton’s insatiable interest could reveal this almost instantaneous succession of events as clearly and totally different stages. The wonderful insight this picture provides is the result of Edgerton’s keen eye and his knack for presenting phenomena as interesting and full of clues. The halls of Strobe Alley were often full of similar pictures accompanied by comments such as, “What’s Happening Here?”

      Harold Egerton—Flash Revelations

      Bullet Through Three Balloons, 1959
      gelatin silver print
      13 x 17 inches
      In one single picture, we see three consecutive stages of the bursting of balloons by a .22 caliber bullet. The sound from the rifle firing was picked up with a microphone, which ultimately triggered the microflash at less than one millionth of a second duration. Only the strobe and Edgerton’s insatiable interest could reveal this almost instantaneous succession of events as clearly and totally different stages. The wonderful insight this picture provides is the result of Edgerton’s keen eye and his knack for presenting phenomena as interesting and full of clues. The halls of Strobe Alley were often full of similar pictures accompanied by comments such as, “What’s Happening Here?”

    • <em>Antique Gun Firing,</em> 1936<br>
gelatin silver print<br>
16 x 20 inches<br>
The 1878 revolver took its own picture as the explosion of the bullet going off triggered the microphone, visible in the foreground. The bullet is barely out of the muzzle, still hidden by the massive volume of smoke escaping the gun. This gives a visceral image of the enormous power released to power a bullet along its way.

      Harold Egerton—Flash Revelations

      Antique Gun Firing, 1936
      gelatin silver print
      16 x 20 inches
      The 1878 revolver took its own picture as the explosion of the bullet going off triggered the microphone, visible in the foreground. The bullet is barely out of the muzzle, still hidden by the massive volume of smoke escaping the gun. This gives a visceral image of the enormous power released to power a bullet along its way.

Harold Edgerton—Flash Revelations

Picturing the Invisible I/III
 
September 6, 2013 - November 8, 2013
 
Picturing the Invisible explores photography as a tool of scientific, personal and social visualization. Flash Revelations, the first of three exhibitions in the series, highlights the celebrated life work of Harold Edgerton. Inventor, engineer, MIT professor, and explorer, Edgerton pioneered the use of high-speed, strobe-photography to arrest movement and capture on film things that were once impossible to see.


Picturing the Invisible I/III

9/6/13 - 11/8/13


Harold Edgerton—Flash Revelations

 
 
In scientific photography striking designs invisible to the human eye are often recorded in the course of investigations.[1]
Helmut Gernsheim, c. 1962
 
It was not an artist but the scientist François Arago who first announced the invention of photography to the public, in Paris in 1839, thus anticipating the close relationship that has linked science and photography ever since.[2]
Gilles Mora, c. 1998
 
Harold Edgerton was above all, more than a photographer with purely artistic concerns, a researcher and a scientist in search of new modes to see and to perceive the world. His images should be understood as visual and scientific experiments, where the possible findings were not previously conceived.[3]
José Gómez Isla, 2010
 
The stroboscopic record of ultra high-speed movements of [Edgerton’s] flash would make possible the visual materialization of paradoxes put forward by the Pre-Socratic philosopher Zeno of Elea, who held that both time and space are infinitely divisible. According to him, all movement by any body (for instance an arrow in flight) was nothing but the sum of the different positions at rest adopted by that object in space during its trajectory.[4]
José Gómez Isla, 2010
 
 
Picturing the Invisible is a year-long exhibition series that examines various ways photography and the photograph have been used to explore and document what often goes unseen: scientific, personal, and social phenomena. Harold Edgerton—Flash Revelations, the first of these exhibitions, focuses on the pioneering work of Harold “Doc” Edgerton. A photographer, scientist, inventor, engineer, MIT professor, and explorer, Edgerton’s high-speed, stroboscopic photographic techniques are well known in the worlds of art, science and popular culture. Moreover, many fields outside those he inhabited have incorporated these methods, including the sports, entertainment and news industries.
 
The photographs in this exhibition offer a glimpse of Edgerton’s work from some of his earliest experiments to his most iconic images. Edgerton was driven by an insatiable curiosity and was often surprised by the results of his work. He would tweak his experiments to overcome issues he perceived as undesirable, often developing new techniques and equipment to achieve his goals. One example that beautifully illuminates the depth of his musings is Bullet Through Three Balloons. In this exceptional photograph, Edgerton not only wondered about what a balloon would look like at the instant a bullet pierces it, but also what would it look like to capture that event with a succession of three balloons rather than just one—each at a different stage in the bursting process. The few microseconds that separate each exploded balloon are frozen, with the first being in pieces and the last barely seeming to have changed at all. From his experiments, understanding about many subjects and phenomena has literally come to light.
 
Edgerton’s contributions to photography are indispensible. Today, audiences around the world are used to seeing images of people and objects arrested in mid-movement, and yet few know whom to credit for these photographic miracles. Edgerton’s images, on the other hand, are widely recognizable and widely reproduced, as iconic as his achievements are within the scientific and artistic fields from which they emanated. Moreover, most history books written on the topics of photography, film and scientific documentation include a section dedicated to Edgerton’s accomplishments and contributions.
 
 
A Brief History of Photography and Objects in Motion
From the moment fixed photography was developed by two Frenchmen, Nicéphore Niépce and Louis Daguerre, between 1826 and 1839, photographers have had to deal with the problem of long exposures resulting in blurry images. The first step in the process to avoid blurs and “ghost images” was the invention of gelatin silver process in the 1870s by Dr. Richard Leach Maddox, John Burgess, Richard Kennett, and Charles Bennett, all of Great Britain. The process allowed for exposures up to twenty times faster than previous methods.[5] In 1872 Eadweard Muybridge created an early precursor to moving pictures by elucidating the movement of a horse in full gallop using a battery of sixteen cameras triggered by tripwires along a track. During the 1880s, Muybridge published an exhaustive study of animals and people in motion in a series of volumes entitled Animal Locomotion. Inspired by Muybridge’s work, Etienne-Jules Marey (France) perfected the fusil photographique (photographic gun), which in his own words made it possible for “the production of successive images taken at set time intervals.”[6] In turn, the work of Muybridge and Marey inspired the Lumière brothers (France) to invent cinematography.[7] Much of Marey’s work anticipates that of Edgerton’s and often has a similar look. While Edgerton was not the first photographer to create images that captured objects, people or animals in motion, he not only perfected the techniques, but also developed the science that made it possible for objects in motion at extreme speeds to be frozen in time in exceptionally high detail. It is Edgerton’s techniques that are now standard practices in each of the fields his life’s work has enhanced.
 
 
Edgerton: A Short Biography[8]
Edgerton [Freemont, Nebraska 1903-1990] was in full possession of his interests before the end of his high school years and those interests fueled his creative, scientific, and pedagogical practices throughout his career. Before he entered college in 1921, two defining experiences laid the foundation for his life’s work. A relative of his from Iowa instilled in him an early fondness of photography, and the vocation led him to set up his own photo lab in the kitchen of his family home. Additionally, Edgerton worked for the company Power and Light in 1920, where he was in charge of analyzing the large power generators and their power surges. Together, these early experiences served as germ seeds for all his subsequent accomplishments.
 
Edgerton attended the University of Nebraska, graduating in 1925 with a degree in Electrical Engineering. By 1927, Edgerton had attained a Masters in Electrical Engineering from MIT—where he would be associated as both scientist and teacher for the rest of his life—for his analysis of engine rotors using a stroboscope and an innovative system of intermittent illumination. By 1931, Edgerton had developed a system of stroboscopic light to achieve amazingly sharp high-speed photographs, as well as multi-shot photographs to freeze different stages of a single movement on a single photogram, and the same year he obtained a PhD in Electrical Engineering from MIT. In 1932 Edgerton published, in both technical and public magazines, his first ultra-high-speed photographs of movements that could not be perceived by the human eye. He would go on to patent one kind of stroboscope and register over forty inventions, among them electrical circuits, flash systems for professional photography, underwater cameras, and sonar systems to photograph the depths of the sea.
 
In 1939, Edgerton’s expertise was called upon by Life Magazine’s Gjon Mili to design and build various kinds of flashes for him, which produced ultra high-speed photographs that captured the attention of the world. In 1944 the U.S. Army and Air Force commissioned Edgerton for various projects concerned with nighttime aerial surveillance. In 1950, Edgerton worked with Herbert Grier and Kenneth Germeshausen to design a camera shutter device devoid of mechanical components, enabling exposure times of four to ten millionths of a second. Beginning in 1963, Edgerton worked with Jacques Cousteau on several experiments developing sonar, and later continued that work to develop technology to analyze seismic movements at the bottom of the sea. Today, locating a ship lost at sea would be near impossible without Edgerton’s contributions.
 
This shortlist of life achievements only echoes the fact that all of his inventions continue to bear fruit and inspire further development in each of the fields they touch. Edgerton died at age 86, in early 1990. His great grandchildren, Travis ’11 and Ben Law ’13, graduated from The Cambridge School of Weston.
 
The Thompson Gallery and the Garthwaite Center for Science and Art are particularly pleased and honored to offer our community this particular exhibit and wish to thank Ellen Law for her support of this project. I would like to acknowledge and thank Tony Loreti (Art Department) for his keen eye and enthusiasm for helping select the images exhibited. This show would not be possible without the support and materials provided by Palm Press, Inc., of Concord, MA, which provided the photographs and background information on the images. I am grateful for Mary Steele’s assistance with the logistics of the show and for Sam Walker ‘05 who prepared and framed most of the prints on exhibit. I also wish to thank Gus Kayafas—who was a studio assistant of Edgerton’s—for his support, enthusiasm, expertise, and, in particular, his descriptions of the photographs, found in the checklist pamphlets and the online slide show.
 
Todd Bartel
Gallery Director, Curator
 


[1] Helmut Gernsheim, Creative Photography—Aesthetic Trends 1839 to Modern Times, Bonanza Books, New York, 1962, P. 168.
[2] Gilles Mora, Photo Speak: A Guide to the Ideas, Movements, and Techniques of Photography 1839 to the Present, Abbeville Press, New York, 1998, p. 169.
[3] José Gómez Isla, The Anatomy of Movement: Photographs by Harold Edgerton, exhibition catalog organized and published by Fundación BBVA, Bilbao, Spain, and La Fábrica Editorial, Madrid, Spain, 2010, p. 16.
[4] Isla, p. 16.
[5] Gernsheim, p. 250.
[6] Mora, p. 122.
[7] Mora, p. 124.
[8] Note: The biographical information in this section is drawn from José Gómez Isla’s chronology of Edgerton, ibid, pp. 90-91.


 


Photos © Harold Edgerton/MIT, courtesy Palm Press, Inc.
Photo captions © Gus Kayafas, 2014

Exhibition installation photography © Todd Bartel, 2013

A catalog for the exhibition is avaiable by written request only. Please send requsts for the Harold Edgerton—Flash Revelations catalog to: thompsongallery@csw.org
  




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The Cambridge School of Weston is a progressive high school for day and boarding students in grades 9–12 and PG. CSW's mission is to provide a progressive education that emphasizes deep learning, meaningful relationships, and a dynamic program that inspires students to discover who they are and what their contribution is to their school, their community and the world.