Harold Edgerton

Harold Edgerton

1903-1990

About

The photographs of Harold Edgerton are at once imaginative, serene, amazing, amusing and beautiful. They represent a graceful and arresting intersection between art and science in which both fields benefited greatly and were forever changed.
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Born and raised in Nebraska, Edgerton’s fascination with electricity led him to obtain his Bachelors in Science in Electrical Engineering from the University of Nebraska in 1925. A year later he began graduate studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. M.I.T. would be his professional “home” for the rest of his career.

Harold Edgerton was a scientist and teacher devoted to “helping others see what they needed to see.” His early desire to study synchronous motors led him to combine his electrical engineering expertise with his interest in photography to pioneer the stroboscopic and multi-flash methods of capturing images. In the process his work opened the door for flash photography to become an essential tool of the modern photographer.

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Edgerton “had the visionary faculty to see beyond a specific invention to its place in society.” As his pictures were published and exhibited, Edgerton started being approached by other scientists, businessmen and even the US government for his assistance. These explorations took him in a wide range of directions, but it is clear looking at the images he created that they are not just by-products of his scientific research.

In considering “Shooting the Apple” the simplicity and beauty of the image belie the complexity of the set-up required to create it. The bullet traveling at 2800 feet per second required an exposure of 1/1,000,000 of a second to stop it mid-flight. This exposure time is well beyond the capacity of most mechanical shutters. Therefore the camera’s shutter was opened and the exposure was determined by the duration of the flash. Since the exposure was controlled by the duration of the flash, the subject needed to be in total or near darkness until the flash had exposed the film.

At this point it becomes clear that creating this image relied on a very careful and highly synchronized set up to be successful. And yet, in Strobe Alley as Edgerton’s lab became known, images such as “Shooting the Apple” were a regular occurrence not an anomaly.