Edgerton stands apart from most contemporary photographers in that he is above all a scientist searching for new ways to see the world. His visual experiments produced optical wonders, which he would then re-use insistently in order to refine and polish his technique.
Trained as an electrical engineer, he invented a stroboscopic flash that would enable high-speed light flickers to record, with remarkable definition, a bullet passing through objects and capture other imperceptible phenomena. The multi-shot technology of his flash allowed Edgerton to freeze the sequential movements of athletes, for instance, at infinitesimal time intervals.
This exhibition, organized for the current edition of PhotoEspaña
, is the largest ever show of Harold Edgertons work outside the United States. Some 100 items have been chosen for the occasion, including documents, photographs and a celebrated film (awarded an Oscar in 1940) on Edgertons photographic work and process. What it reveals above all is his extraordinary contribution to the history of seeing movement and, by extension, the unique, paradoxical relationship between photography and representations of time.
Born in Fremont, Nebraska, Harold "Doc" Edgerton (1903-1990) began his graduate studies at MIT in 1926. He became a professor of electrical engineering at MIT in 1934. In 1966, he was named Institute Professor, MIT's highest honor.
With his development of the electronic stroboscope, Edgerton set into motion a lifelong course of innovation centered on a single idea making the invisible visible. An inveterate problem-solver, Edgerton succeeded in photographing phenomena that were too bright or too dim or moved too quickly or too slowly to be captured with traditional photography.
In the early days of his career, Edgerton's subjects were motors, running water and drops splashing, bats and hummingbirds in flight, golfers and footballers in motion, his children at play. By the time of his death at the age of 86, Edgerton had developed dozens of practical applications for stroboscopy, some that would influence the course of history.
The strides that Edgerton made in night aerial photography during World War II were instrumental to the success of the Normandy invasion and, for his contribution to the war effort, Doc was awarded the Medal of Freedom. During the Cold War, Edgerton and his partners at EG&G (Edgerton, Germeshausen, and Grier) made it possible to document nuclear explosions, an advance of incalculable scientific significance. In the last three decades of his life, Edgerton concentrated on sonar and underwater photography, illuminating the depths of the ocean for undersea explorers such as Jacques Cousteau, who dubbed his good friend "Papa Flash."
Doc's genius for revealing slices of time to the naked eye also engaged the public imagination. In part, this had to do with his astute choice of subject matter: Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, the acrobats of the Moscow Circus, British tennis star Gussie Moran. But Doc's most famous study and possibly his favorite the milk-drop coronet, transcended its simple subject. The image, formed by the splash of a drop of milk, not only introduced the poetry of physics into popular culture, but forever altered the visual vocabulary of photography and science.
The exhibition is on view at BBVA / Sala de exposiciones AZCA.