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Freeze Frame: Edgerton Exhibition Hits St. Pete MFA

May 9, 2016

MIT Electrical Engineering professor Harold Edgerton was trained in photography by his uncle. That uncle taught him how to take pictures and how to develop them. 

Edgerton's photographs ultimately stretched the limits of human vision by capturing images never before seen. That tick when a bullet hits an apple, that moment of impact before that apple disintegrates into a million little pieces. That Edgerton photograph is called "Bullet Through Apple."

The St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts has a new exhibition featuring Edgerton pictures spanning decades from the 1930s to the 1970s.

It includes iconic images. And you can tell that creating that image was not a split-second event, said exhibition curator, Robin O'Dell. "Some things that are really iconic, like "Milk Drop Coronet," he worked on for 25 years to get that perfect image and even in the exhibition you'll see there's some of his early experiments and then you see the like, later thing that he was trying to perfect; that still when you look at it carefully is not quite perfect."

But are such photographs art? O'Dell says that debate has been going on since the advent of photography.

She said Edgerton was first and foremost a scientist, who invented the electronic flash. "He invented sonars and deep water lights and cameras and he was instrumental in World War II with reconnaissance lighting and photography and war photography. He very much was a scientist and was constantly pushing the edge of photography and capturing this world that up until he created these things --were not visible."

O'Dell says Edgerton had many patents and "tinkered until he was able to answer the questions of how things work or capture an image or being able to see what was really happening." For example, what really happens to a football when someone gives it a good kick.

On Sunday,  May 22, Gus Kayafas, the founding chairman of the Massachusetts College of Art and Design who also studied with Edgerton will speak on "More for the Eye to See" at St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts.