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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Harold E. Edgerton

Born: Harold Eugene Edgerton 
Other: Doc Edgerton 
Other: Harold Edgerton 
Dates:  1903, 6 April - 1990, 4 January
Born:  US, NE, Fremont
Died:  US, MA, Cambridge
Active:  US
American scientific photographer and pioneer of stroboscopic photography in the 1930s. Using a single flash to highlight a drop of milk or a bullet penetrating a banana his photographed revealed an unseen world not visible to the human eye. By using multiple strobe flashes he captured the movements of a tennis player and the swing of a golfer. His film of 1939 Seeing the Unseen showed this pioneering work. During the Second World War he experimented with strobes mounted to aircraft that could be used for night reconnaissance and took some aerial views of Stonehenge at night.
His archive is held at MIT - Edgerton Digital Project, MIT Museum and Edgerton Center.

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for Harold E. Edgerton
Courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum (London, UK)

Harold Edgerton was an electrical engineer and began to take photographs as scientific experiments. In his first, he tried to produce a perfect coronet from a single drop of milk falling into liquid. To do this he invented the stroboscope - a device to produce short bursts of light. This allowed him to take split-second pictures of objects in motion which could not be seen by the human eye, including bullets and hummingbirds in flight, light bulbs shattering, and athletes in action. Some of his photographs had an exposure time of less than 1/10,000 of a second. 
This biography is courtesy and copyright of the Victoria & Albert Museum and is included here with permission. 
Date last updated: 11 Nov 2011. 
We welcome institutions and scholars willing to test the sharing of biographies for the benefit of the photo-history community. The biography above is a part of this trial.
If you find any errors please email us details so they can be corrected as soon as possible.

Biography provided by Focal Press 
A scientist who, in 1938, developed the electronic flash tube that emitted a brilliant light lasting less than one-millionth of a second and was capable of being fired rapidly to obtain multiple-image stroboscopic effects. Electronic flash photography is based upon his discoveries. Using the stroboscope, he explored the field of high-speed photography, becoming the first to make stop-action photographs of events unperceivable to the human eye. The formal compositions of ordinary subjects, such as a bullet exploding an apple, aroused wonder and crossed the borders of art, entertainment, and science, making the invisible visible and thereby expanding our notion of reality. 
(Author: Robert Hirsch - Independent scholar and writer) 
Michael Peres (Editor-in-Chief), 2007, Focal Encyclopedia of Photography, 4th edition, (Focal Press) [ISBN-10: 0240807405, ISBN-13: 978-0240807409] 
(Used with permission) 

Further research

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Bill Jay
Harold Edgerton 
Family history 
If you are related to this photographer and interested in tracking down your extended family we can place a note here for you to help. It is free and you would be amazed who gets in touch.

Exhibitions on this website

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Visual indexes

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Internet biographies

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Wikipedia has a biography of this photographer. Go to website
Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography. Go to website
Grove Art Online ( has a biography of this artist. 
[NOTE: This is a subscription service and you will need to pay an annual fee to access the content.]
 Go to website
The International Photographers Hall of Fame has provided a biography. Go to website

Printed biographies

The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual photographers.

• Auer, Michele & Michel 1985 Encyclopedie Internationale Des Photographes de 1839 a Nos Jours / Photographers Encylopaedia International 1839 to the present (Hermance, Editions Camera Obscura) 2 volumes [A classic reference work for biographical information on photographers.] 
• Beaton, Cecil & Buckland, Gail 1975 The Magic Eye: The Genius of Photography from 1839 to the Present Day (Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown & Company) p.193 [Useful short biographies with personal asides and one or more example images.] 
• Capa, Cornell (ed.) 1984 The International Center of Photography: Encyclopedia of Photography (New York, Crown Publishers, Inc. - A Pound Press Book) p.162-163 
• Evans, Martin Marix (Executive ed.) 1995 Contemporary Photographers [Third Edition] (St. James Press - An International Thomson Publishing Company) [Expensive reference work but highly informative.] 
• International Center of Photography 1999 Reflections in a Glass Eye: Works from the International Center of Photography Collection (New York: A Bulfinch Press Book) p.214 [Includes a well written short biography on Harold E. Edgerton with example plate(s) earlier in book.] 
• Lenman, Robin (ed.) 2005 The Oxford Companion to the Photograph (Oxford: Oxford University Press)  [Includes a short biography on Harold E. Edgerton.] 
• Witkin, Lee D. and Barbara London 1979 The Photograph Collector’s Guide (London: Secker and Warburg) p.129 [Long out of print but an essential reference work - the good news is that a new edition is in preparation.] 

Useful printed stuff

If there is an analysis of a single photograph or a useful self portrait I will highlight it here.

• Newhall, Beaumont 1982 The History of Photography - Fifth Edition (London: Secker & Warburg) [One or more photographs by Harold E. Edgerton are included in this classic history.] 
• Szarkowski, John 1973 Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art (New York: The Museum of Modern Art) p.114 [Analyzes a single photograph by Harold E. Edgerton.] 


Photographic collections are a useful means of examining large numbers of photographs by a single photographer on-line. 

In the 1990 survey of 535 American photographic collections Harold E. Edgerton was represented in 56 of the collections. Source: Andrew H. Eskind & Greg Drake (eds.) 1990 Index to American Photographic Collections [Second Enlarged Edition] (Boston, Massachusetts: G.K. Hall & Co.) 
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