THE EXPERIENCE OF SEEING THE UNSEEN HAS PROVIDED ME WITH INSIGHTS AND QUESTIONS MY ENTIRE LIFE.
- Dr. Harold Edgerton
Photography has illuminated so many areas of the 20th century, but none more so than the remarkable work by one of photography's true pioneers: Dr Harold Edgerton (1903-1990). As the inventor of the strobe flash in the early 1930s, the 'Doc.' as he was affectionately known, stopped time in its tracks. For the first time we were able to see the wonderful arc of the golf swing, or the innate beauty of the 'crown' as a droplet hits a pool of milk.
Born in Fremont, Nebraska, the Doc was raised in Aurora, Colorado. Enrolling at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1926, it was during his time as a professor at MIT, some years later, that he invented the electronic flash and decided to devote his career to recording what the unaided eye cannot see. Edgerton's influence is still felt today, as we still use his invention in contemporary flash cameras, although their size over time has somewhat changed. Many journalists, photographers, scientists, inventors, industrialists and naturalists have all paid tribute to him for altering the way we look at the world and for controlling and explaining its unseen happenings. In 1986, the Spencer Museum of Art in Kansas curated an exhibition of Edgerton's work exhibited alongside that of Leonardo da Vinci.
In one particular image, the famous golfer Densmore Shute, well-known for the style and grace of his strokes, swings his driver into an Archimedean spiral - photographed at 100 flashes per second for half a second. His torso dissolves into a ghostly shape, superimposed on itself 50 times by the flashing strobe. Note the curving of the shaft after the ball is hit.