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Guide to the Gjon Mili Photographs, circa 1939-1949

Summary

Collection comprises 20 gelatin silver prints of images taken during the 1930s and 1940s by photographer Gjon Milin. Through new tecniques of strobe lighting and electronic flash which Mili developed at MIT, the black-and-white images, some of which were used by Life magazine, portray human locomotion and the movements of other physical phenomena such as cascading water, frozen in time. Human subjects include two African American children playing with paddleballs, a man in the shower, a man aiming a racket at a shuttlecock, and female nudes. One image is of the photographer Mili photographing a stream of water with his camera. Acquired as part of the Archive of Documentary Arts at Duke University.

Collection Details

Collection Number
RL.11354
Title
Gjon Mili photographs
Date
circa 1939-1949
Extent
0.25 Linear Feet, 1 flat box
Repository
David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Language
Materials are in English.

Collection Overview

Collection comprises 20 gelatin silver prints taken during the 1930s and 1940s by photographer Gjon Mili. Using new techniques of strobe lighting and electronic flash that he developed at MIT, Mili created stop-action and multi-image frames portraying the movement of the human body (reminiscent of the more scientific locomotion studies of √Čtienne Jules Marey and Eadward Muybridge) and of objects such as an egg breaking in a pan, a jet from a siphon bottle, and a cascade of water. Human subjects in the collection include two African American children playing with paddleballs, a man in the shower, a man aiming a racket at a shuttlecock, and female nudes. One image is of Mili photographing a stream of water with his camera.

The prints range in size from 8x10 to 11x14 inches. Most are vintage prints, created from the 1930s to the 1940s; only one bears a date - 1943. A few are mounted on thin board, but the majority are unmounted paper prints. All are stamped with the photographer's name and "From the Richard Checani Collection." One print bears the stamp "Life Photo, to use" referring to Mili's work for the magazine. A few bear penciled captions such as "cartwheel" and "nude descending a staircase," and one penciled notation explains the genesis of the image: "Full frame (35 mm) shot by Wallace Kirkland, who was at my side, G [jon]." Acquired as part of the Archive of Documentary Arts at Duke University.

More Biographical / Historical Info

Using These Materials

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warning Access to the Collection

Collection is open for research. Images may only be used for educational, non-commercial purposes.

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All or portions of this collection may be housed off-site in Duke University's Library Service Center. The library may require up to 48 hours to retrieve these materials for research use.

Please contact Research Services staff before visiting the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library to use this collection.

warning Use & Permissions

The copyright interests in this collection have not been transferred to Duke University. For more information, consult the copyright section of the Regulations and Procedures of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

More copyright and citation information

How to Cite

[Identification of item], Gjon Mili photographs, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Contents of the Collection

Photograph of Gjon Mili at work; egg breaking in a pan; siphon bottle; knife moving through water
(4 items)
Box 1
Folder 1
Children playing with paddleballs; studies of athletic movement; man in shower
(4 items)
Box 1
Folder 2
Motion studies with nudes
(5 items)
Box 1
Folder 3
Motion studies with nudes
(4 items)
Box 1
Folder 4
Polarized motion study of human form; two studies of bubbles
(3 items)
Box 1
Folder 5
 

Historical Note

Photographer Gjon Mili was born in 1904 in what is now known as Albania, and emigrated to the United States in 1923, where he studied engineering at MIT. Working with Harold Edgerton at MIT, Mili developed new photographic technologies of strobe lighting and the electronic flash, and began using them to freeze and capture motion in a single frame of photographic film. In 1939 he was hired as a freelance photographer by Life magazine, and became famous for his motion-in-time sequences of 20th century dancers, jazz musicians, and athletes. Among his most well-known images are those of artist Pablo Picasso using light to "draw" linear shapes in the air. Gjon Mili died in Connecticut in 1984.


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Provenance

The Gjon Mili photographs were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library as a gift from the Howard Greenberg Gallery in 2016.

Processing Information

Processed and encoded by Paula Jeannet Mangiafico, December 2016.

Accession(s) represented in this collection guide: 2016-0315.