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Frozen Image: Juniata Art Museum Displays Stop-Motion Photographs

(Posted September 18, 2006)

Milk Drop Coronet is the title of this photograph by pioneering photography researcher Harold Edgerton.

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- The startling images of a bullet in flight or a frozen moment recording the splash of a drop of milk represent the blending of art and science, which is why the Juniata College Museum of Art has scheduled the exhibition, "Seeing the Unseen: Photographs by Harold E. Edgerton" from Thursday, Sept. 21 through Nov. 11 at the museum.
There will be an opening reception for the exhibit at 5 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 21 at the museum gallery. The reception is free and open to the public.
Harold E. "Doc" Edgerton was a doctoral student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the 1930s when he discovered that a high-speed stroboscope, which bursts out a brilliant flash of light at an object, would "stop motion" on photographic film. Edgerton used this technology to study how the rotors synchronize in electric motors, research that led to his doctorate in electrical engineering in 1931. A colleague suggested Edgerton aim his camera at everyday objects such as a stream of water, a hummingbird in flight and athletes in motion.
His stroboscopic device, which he called "God Almighty's lightning in a bottle," led to the development of the modern electronic flash camera. Edgerton and two other MIT graduates, Kenneth Germeshausen and Herbert Grier, created a company EG&G, which specialized in electronic technology applicable to space exploration, atomic physics and marine science.
He also began collaborating with photographer Gjon Mili, who used a multiflash strobe light to capture stop-motion images of spectacular beauty. Many of the photos from this partnership appeared originally in Life magazine. allowing the nation to see the beauty and order that our eyes cannot register.
Although his partners pursued the corporate implications of his work, Edgerton preferred to dedicate his time to his students and research as a professor of electrical engineering at his alma mater. He continued to experiment with new ways to illuminate the unseen world. In World War II he developed a powerful flash system used for aerial night photography for the Allies during the Normandy invasion.
He also worked with undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau to develop underwater flash photography and also applied his research to develop side-scan sonar technology, which was subsequently used to discover such famous sunken ships as the USS Monitor and the SS Titanic.
Edgerton, accused of doctoring his "bullets in flight" photos, proved skeptics wrong when he photographed bullets bursting through apples, playing cards and light bulbs. He applied the same technology to movies, winning an Academy Award for Best Short Subject for the film "Quickern' a Wink."
His work turned laboratory stroboscopes into everyday devices featured on almost every camera manufactured today. He died in 1990.
The Juniata College Museum of Art is located in historic Carnegie Hall at 17th and Moore streets in Huntingdon. Museum hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. For more information, please call the museum at (814) 641-3505, or visit the Juniata College Web site at http://www.juniata.edu/museum.

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.