Fritz Goro, LIFE Magazine’s Photographer of Science
I was recently browsing the journals in our library at work, looking for an older article that I couldn’t access online, when I noticed something incongruous. There, amongst the thin journal issues covering neuroscience, immunology and more, was a thick tome of photography; The Great LIFE Photographers. Being a curious person I immediately forgot what I had come looking for, took this treasure trove down from the shelf and started flipping through. There were names I knew for sure; profiles on, and work from, Margaret Bourke-White; the Capa brothers, Cornell and Robert; Alfred Eisenstadt; Andreas Feininger; Joe McNally; Gordon Parks; and W. Eugene Smith. There were also plenty of photographers I had not yet heard of but whose names and images I look forward to becoming familiar with.
One of those I had previously not known was Fritz Goro. According to the evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould he was the ” most influential photographer that science journalism (and science in general) has known.” Now that’s my kind of photographer! Paraphrasing his LIFE mini biography, titled At the Forefront of Science, he was apparently an inquisitive and patient worker who, along the way, documented significant scientific breakthroughs. His New York Times obituary states that “Gerard Piel, chairman of the board of Scientific American, then science editor at Life, said Mr. Goro ”covered the science that went into World War II from the fermentation of penicillin to the separation of the isotopes of uranium and plutonium that made the atomic bomb.” Since World War II, Mr. Piel said, ”it was his artistry and ingenuity that made photographs of abstractions, of the big ideas from the genetic code to plate tectonics.” He was also inventive, developing macro photography and thus “making visible the world that lies between the microscope and the naked eye.” In the book this inventiveness is also on display in an image of a red laser blasting through a razor blade. The caption next to the photograph states “The problems in subduing laser light for a still photograph seemed insuperable in 1963. After all, a laser’s flash is measured in thousandths of a second, so even with a time exposure it seemed improbable that it could register on any available color film. After hundreds of experiments, Goro tried using a razor blade as a triggering device, and voilà.” So it seems he was not just a photographer, but a man who employed the scientific method in his work.
I have not been able to find much more of his work online, especially dedicated archive site even at LIFE. However, if you are interested in science and photography then surely you will have seen his images before, even if you don’t know it, and may wish to seek out more. I was really excited by finding out about Fritz Goro as I am coming to strongly believe that science benefits from strong visual communication to the public. He was a pioneer in the documentation of those discoveries he covered.