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Matinee: Doc Edgerton Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

24 May 2014

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the thirty-fourth in our series of Saturday matinees today: Doc Edgerton.

This short appreciation of the father of stroboscopic photography would probably be considered a feature-length film to Harold "Doc" Edgerton. The MIT professor's images were captured faster than a shutter snap or the blink of an eye. It took just a pop of light, sometimes several pops with the shutter open, to capture things never before seen.

After a brief introduction, Professor J. Kim Vandiver, founder of the MIT Edgerton Center, talks about Edgerton, his invention and his photography. At the same time some of the better reproductions of his images are displayed on the screen.

He used a strobe to analyze electrical engines as a young man but soon saw an application for the technology in stop-motion photography. He brought his invention to Kodak only to be told it wouldn't sell, so he shared it with sports photographers, who ate it up.

That little flash in your digicam is really his invention.

And he used it to capture extraordinary (and now familiar) images including hummingbirds in flight, bullets ripping through balloons, a football as it is being kicked, the corona of a drop of milk and more.

He didn't stop there. He helped develop side-scan sonar technology to scan the sea floor, working with undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau to discover the wreck of the Britannic.

Edgerton's philosophy was simple:

"Work hard. Tell everyone everything you know. Close a deal with a handshake. Have fun!"

Edgerton passed away at the age of 86 in 1990. In 1992 MIT established the Edgerton Center, a hands-on lab for students. As he put it, "I have three lifetimes worth of things to do. I guess I'll have to leave some of the problems for the next generation."

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