Part 3 Traces of Time.

The course work now delves into time and shutter speed. It goes on about the history of exposure times and how the progress of photography can be measured by this. Which is true, images pre war had an exposure time of hours and hours. Now they are down to a fraction of a second.

The course work mentions 3 significant figures in the progression of time with in photography. These three men were pioneers in what has come to be recognised as a defining characteristic of the medium- the ability to freeze movement in a fraction of a second.

Eadweard Muybridge ( 1830-1904)

It wasn’t until 1877 that improvements in film speeds and electronic shutters allowed Eadweard Muybridge to achieve exposure times that captured movement as a still image.  Muybridge provided visual proof for the first time of something that had evaded human perception for centuries. In 1872 the former governor of California, Leland Stanford, a racehorse owner hired Muybridge to undertake a photographic study . Stanford had reputably taken on a bet that all four of a racehorses hooves are off the ground simultaneously. On 15th June 1878, Muybridge set up a line of cameras with trip wires, each of which would trigger a picture for a split second as the horse ran past.  The resultant images settled the debate that a horse lifts all his four hooves of the ground at one time when galloping. Eadweard Muybridge  movement images have influenced many artists throughout the century including Duchamp, Pollock and Bacon.

Arthur Mason Worthington ( 1852-1916)

Historically Arthur Worthington, a physicist in 1908 was the first one to study the fluid dynamics of splashes photographically.  A splash is a sudden disturbance to a liquid surface. The disturbance is typically caused by a solid object suddenly hitting the surface although the splashes can occur in which moving liquid supplies the energy, The use of the word is onomatopoeic. Splashes also happen when a liquid droplet impacts on a liquid or a solid surface. In this case, a symmetric corona is usually formed which is shown in Harold Edgerton’s famous milk splash photography.

Harold ‘Doc’ Edgerton( 1903-1990)

Harold Edgerton was born in 1903 in Nebraska , USA and he was passionate about two things, photography and electricity. He worked in a power company  as an engineer whilst studying at MIT and that is where he first noticed that a burst of light freezes time. He invented the flash, strobe lighting which used a bulb filled with inert gas, using a battery to provide an electric current, it was used to excite the inert gas in a bulb to produce a flash of light. This meant that the bulb could be used again with a battery supply as opposed to the magnesium filled bulbs which could be used only once. Edgerton called it a stroboscope.

Edgerton experimented in high speed photography as a diagnostic tool to help solve engineering problems. This was advantageous during world war 2, Edgerton’s strobe technology was used by the allied forces on planes to find bombsites on moonless nights. He made a documentary film in 1940 called ‘Quicker than a wink  which won an award.

After the war Edgerton continued his work at MIT were he was nicknamed affectionately ‘Doc’ by his students. He became good friends with Jacque Cousteau and developed the ‘Pinger’ which is a side sonar scanner , he continued on inventing till 1990 when he died of an heart attack aged 86. MIT dedicated ‘Strobe Ally ‘ in his honor. He never thought of himself as an artist even though his images are cited as works of art he always maintained he was an engineer.

milk coronet
Milk drop Coronet- Harold Edgerton – 1957


The  first website link below was given in the coursework  and is very interesting. I loved reading the stories section with the personal interaction between Harold Edgerton and his students.


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