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Harold Edgerton , (Apr 6, 1903–Jan 4, 1990)

Seeing the Unseen


Medium and Support: twelve photographs
Credit Line: gift of Katherine D. and Stephen C. Sherrill (PA 1971, and P 2005, 2007, 2010)
Accession Number: 2006.42.1-12


The miraculous photographs made by MIT-trained electrical engineer Harold Edgerton were born of a engineering experiment in which the whirling motion of a machine could be perceived to be “stopped” when synchronized with the application of the pulsing strobe light. Quickly the principal was adapted to create strobe-flash photography by syncing the light of the strobe with an ordinary camera. The resultant photographs are far from ordinary—they provide a glimpse into motion, speed, and time. As photography historian John Szarkowski commented, “Although Edgerton’s basic motive has been informational, not aesthetic he has consistently made pictures that have been bold, stylish, and dramatic.” Edgerton brought his new technology to photographic studies of speeding projectiles, moving animals, swinging athletes, and leaping dancers, showing not only how objects react to the impact of bullets and explode, splash, or drop in sequence, but also the powerful fluid motion of the human body swinging a tennis racquet, throwing a baseball, or skipping rope. Both scientific and artistic, Edgerton’s photography makes time stand still and allows us to view the formerly-unseen and infinitely remarkable dynamics of motion.

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