Photographs by Harold Edgerton: Recent Acquisitions
February 1, 1997 - May 25, 1997Dr. Harold Edgerton (American, 1903-1990) developed the stroboscope and electronic flash for high-speed, stop-action photography. His far-reaching experiments, begun at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the early 1930s and continuing into the 1980s, fundamentally changed the way we perceive the world by making visible the unseen, dynamic behavior of objects in motion. Edgerton's inventions revolutionized flash photography, motion pictures, and underwater photography and had broad applications in industry, the military, medicine, and commerce. Although he made his amazing photographs for the purposes of science and not art, the revelation of unknown or unseen reality has its own intrinsic and wondrous beauty and its lessons for artists. Prior to Edgerton, the artists Eadweard Muybridge, Etienne-Jules Marey, and Thomas Eakins made motion studies using the technology of the 1880s, in an effort to render objects in motion with a new precision and clarity. In the 1910s the Italian Futurists borrowed the disclosures of these studies to create a sense of dynamism in their paintings and photographs. At the 1913 Armory Show in New York, Marcel Duchamp shocked Americans with his painting Nude Descending a Staircase, the most public and most outrageous interpretation of the kinds of phenomena Edgerton would begin to explore in depth two decades later.