Soon after photography was invented in 1839, scientists were taking pictures by the light of electric sparks. (Henry Fox Talbot patented a method for doing so in 1851.) In the 1930s Harold E. Edgerton of M.I.T. devised a way to discharge high voltage through a tube of rare gas, thus creating a spark bright enough to expose film in a millionth of a second.
Edgerton used his lamps to photograph (among other subjects) humming birds, bullets and professional athletes. More than 40 flashes, each lasting 100,000th of a second, and occurring every 100th of a second, illuminated golfer Densmore Shute’s swing.
Shute could study the photograph to improve his form, but Edgerton wanted to see how a golf club bent after hitting a ball. “A good experiment,” he said, “is simply one that reveals something previously unknown.”
John Loengard, Celebrating the Negative is available to museums as a touring exhibition from Curatorial Assistance.