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Clinging to Reality

September 19, 1993|LYNELL GEORGE

More than a century since its inception, photography has yet to convince some fine-arts purists that this upstart medium isn't more science than art.

German photographer Fritz Goro became influential for his ability to meld those two seemingly disparate worlds in images that turned the nuts and bolts of science into seamless art.

Goro's groundbreaking photographs span 50 years--a wealth of sometimes-indelible icons amassed during his tenure as a Life magazine staff photographer and free-lance photojournalist.

The resulting images communicated what words could not. Goro helped scientists to better visualize and thus document their findings, and lay people to understand arcane concepts and processes.

"On the Nature of Things: The Scientific Photography of Fritz Goro" (Aperture) assembles some of the striking results of Goro's endeavors--capturing an "invisible" laser beam, examining a prehistoric fly preserved in amber or communicating the three-dimensional nature of the hologram.

His most controversial image, a miscarried fetus kept alive in a glass-and-steel "womb," documented research by Stanford-based Dr. Robert Goodlin. The image inspired a memorable scene in the film "2001: A Space Odyssey." But when it first appeared in Life, the photograph outraged abortion opponents unclear of the doctor's intentions. Their pressure ultimately forced Goodlin to abandon his project.

"Many people falsely equate science photography with pretty pictures of organisms," Stephen Jay Gould writes in the book's introduction. "But Fritz Goro knew that each icon posed an intellectual puzzle. . . . He often struggled for months to find or construct icons that would share the necessary features of accuracy, instruction and beauty."

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