Guide to the Gjon Mili Photographs, circa 1939-1949
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 Number
- Gjon Mili photographs
- circa 1939-1949
- 0.25 Linear Feet, 1 flat box
- David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
- Materials are in English.
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 Étienne 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.
Access to the Collection
Collection is open for research. Images may only be used for educational, non-commercial purposes.
Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.
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.
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.
How to Cite
[Identification of item], Gjon Mili photographs, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.
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.
Click to find related materials at Duke University Libraries.
- Action photography
- Electronic flash photography
- Human locomotion -- Pictorial works
- Photographers -- United States
- Photography -- Experiments
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.
Processed and encoded by Paula Jeannet Mangiafico, December 2016.
Accession(s) represented in this collection guide: 2016-0315.