Others Image-makers in Search of the Un-seeable or Fleeting

Guillaume Duchenne de Boulogne (French, 1806—​1934) and Adrien Tournachon (French, 1825—1875)
Plate from Mécanisme de la physionomie humaine (The Mechanism of Human Facial Expression/Physiognomy), 1862
Albumen print
Princeton University Art Museum, Museum purchase, anonymous gift

A pioneer of neurology, Guillaume Duchenne de Boulogne (1806–1875) documented his seminal research on human facial expressions in his monograph The Mechanism of Human Facial Expression. For this research, Duchenne delivered electric shocks to human facial muscles by using small probes with the intent to create as many facial expressions as he could. Duchenne believed that expressions were linked to a person’s soul. Engaging the new media of photography, Duchenne worked with photographer Adrian Tournachon to capture transient expressions for his monograph.

Berenice Abbott, American, 1898—1991
Zinc Crystals, ca. 1958
Gelatin silver print
Princeton University Art Museum, gift of Carlton Willers

Berenice Abbott’s role as picture editor for Science Illustrated foretells her work as a science photographer. Abbott invented new camera equipment and techniques in order to best capture scientific images. She believed that “there needs to be a friendly interpreter between science and the layman,” and photography made the best interpreter. In 1958 (the year of Zinc Crystals), MIT’s Physical Science Study Committee, a group writing a new physics textbook to improve the high-school curriculum, hired Abbott. Her photographs for PSSC became the subject of an exhibition at the Smithsonian Museum of History and Technology in the 1960s. Abbott once asked, “Can science and art unite?” She answered, “My own conviction is that not only is this possible—it’s necessary.”

©MIT 2010. Courtesy of MIT Museum

Harold Edgerton, American, 1903—1990
30 Bullet Piercing an Apple, 1964, printed 1985
Dye transfer print
Princeton University Art Museum, gift of James P. Harrington, Class of 1947

Harold Edgerton, a professor at MIT, was as fascinated as Howard Russell Butler was by the challenge of capturing transient moments. Like Butler’s, Edgerton’s work was both part of the process of scientific experimentation and the development of new technology; his strobe photography, which used very fast flash, demonstrated the seemingly undetectable order of a rapid succession of events, such as a bullet piercing an apple. Both Butler and Edgerton devised methods of capturing transient events. In 1973, Edgerton traveled to Mauritania to photograph an eclipse.


Eadweard Muybridge, American, 1803—1904
The Horse in Motion: “Abe Edgington,” owned by Leland Stanford; driven by C. Marvin, trotting at 8-min. gait over Palo Alto track, 18 June, 1878, 1878
Albumen print
Princeton University Art Museum, Museum purchase

Eadweard Muybridge’s The Horse in Motion captures each step in a horse’s gallop. Muybridge took these photographs at a slow shutter speed with a series of cameras triggered by cables on the horse’s track. Commissioned by industrialist Leland Stanford to photograph the horse, Muybridge invented this “motion-sensing” camera over the course of seven years. Stanford sought to prove Étienne-Jules Marey’s theory of “unsupported transit”— the idea that an animal’s legs are simultaneously off the ground at points while running. Muybridge’s photography eventually proved the theory, and he went on to continue his photographic studies of locomotion, inspiring more realistic art and scientific research.

Asher Brown Durand, American, 1796—1886
Kaaterskill Landscape, 1850 
Oil on canvas 
Princeton University Art Museum, Museum purchase, John Maclean Magie, Class of 1892, and Gertrude Magie Fund

Kaaterskill Landscape was part of Durand’s Studies from Nature series, which exhibits a Realist approach to art. Durand’s work often married elements of the Romantic (an eighteenth and nineteenth century art movement that often portrayed nature in an emotional rather than rational manner) and the scientific. Compositionally, these close-up, detailed, and realistic studies, which emphasize light effects, are similar to Butler’s zoomed-in and accurate eclipse paintings. Durand sought transient or unexpected moments in nature.The resulting vignettes were surprising in that Durand did not necessarily plan his landscapes but wished to stumble upon natural beauty and find himself struck by inspiration.

Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, British, 1807—1894
Cretaceous Life of New Jersey, 1877.
Oil on canvas
Princeton University, Department of Geosciences, Guyot Hall

Victorian artist and naturalist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (1808-1894) created the world’s first life-size models of dinosaurs—for London’s Crystal Palace Park in 1852, and later for natural history exhibits in New York and Philadelphia. Hawkins arrived in Princeton in the early 1870s to lecture on paleontology at the behest of Arnold Guyot, founder of the department of Geological and Geophysical Sciences, and in 1874 he was awarded an honorary degree for his service to the college. Two years later he was commissioned by President McCosh to create seventeen scenes of prehistoric life and geology for the Elizabeth Marsh Museum of Geology and Archaeology, located in what is now Princeton University’s Faculty Room at Nassau Hall. The paintings were designed to be hung together as a panorama, and each depicts a specific geologic epoch; seen together, they create a timeline of life on earth.

William Bartram, American, 1739—1823
Canna Indica L., 1784
Brown ink on paper
American Philosophical Society, Violetta Delafield—Benjamin Smith Barton Collection
661.020 / APSimg2245

William Bartram most likely identified the plant depicted in Canna Indica L. during his expeditionsexploring the American southeast. Like Butler’s work, Canna Indica L. is based on close, firsthand observation in the field, but Bartram, unlike Butler, departed from reality in illustrating the specimen. Here, he enlarged the full specimen and extracted the seed pod so as to allow the viewer to see its interior—a view which would not be possible if the viewer were looking at the specimen shown in the foreground. In order to show an accurate view and convey the maximum amount of information, Bartram distorted and departed from reality.

Structure of the Radium Atom,” color plate II
in H. A. Kramers and Helge Holst, The Atom and the Bohr Theory of Its Structure: An Elementary Presentation, trans. R. B. Lindsay and Rachel T. Lindsay (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1923)
Lewis Library, Princeton University

“Structure of the Radium Atom” represents an early-twentieth-century attempt to visualize something that had not yet been empirically observed, i.e., the structure of the radium atom. The image is a hypothesis rather than a document or transcription of observation.