Sheldon Museum of Art Main Content


Wes Fesler Kicking a Football

  • Harold Edgerton, Wes Fesler Kicking a Football.

Selected by Richard Graham
Associate Professor
University Libraries

If Jim Croce had really wanted to save time in a bottle, he should have taken a picture. Photography traps time in scales: erasing it by omitting the temporal, or freezing it in its decisive moment. This term is associated with photojournalism pioneer Henri Cartier-Bresson, who described the split-second of genius and inspiration needed to capture those fleeting moments. A half second too late or early greatly influences the image. While once this demanded a camera always at hand, the advent of new technology has elevated the challenge of trapping time, of seizing that decisive moment, to new levels.

Harold Eugene “Doc” Edgerton, a Fremont native raised in Aurora and educated at the University of Nebraska, approached the challenge of the decisive moment with invention. In 1987, National Geographic referred to Doc Edgerton as, “the man who made time stand still” because his invention of the high-speed flash tube revealed for the first time what the eye had never seen: a bullet the instant it explodes through an apple, and a perfect coronet formed by a milk-drop splash. Both have become classics of modern art and science.

But it’s this image of a football taking intense punishment I find most captivating. Edgerton explained in his book Flash!: “... the kicker is Wesley E. Fesler, onetime all-American star at Ohio State and their coach from 1947 to 1950, and the ball is inflated to the normal playing pressure of approximately thirteen pounds to the square inch. Measurements show that the boot penetrates at least half the diameter of the ball.”† In this moment of frozen time, I see the dichotomy of before and after—wires used to make contact for the flash exposure, the dust suspended in midair as the rapidly accelerated ball launches. I can see 1/10,000 of a second. I am witness to the decisive moment.

* Erla Swingle, “‘Doc’ Edgerton: The Man Who Made Time Stand Still,” National Geographic, 172 (October 1987): 464–483.

† Harold E. Edgerton and James R. Killian, Jr., Flash! Seeing the Unseen by Ultra High-Speed Photography, Boston: Charles T. Branford Co., 1954.