A pair of 90-day-old cow fetuses clearly visible inside an amniotic sac, 1965.
A pair of 90-day-old cow fetuses clearly visible inside an amniotic sac, 1965.Fritz Goro—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
A pair of 90-day-old cow fetuses clearly visible inside an amniotic sac, 1965.
Sheep that survived an atom bomb test are studied for radiation poisoning, 1949.
An astronaut tests noise levels coming from giant speakers that mimic the high-decibel sound of a rocket launch, 1967.
Reactor dome is lowered, by means of a huge crane, into the reactor pit of the under-construction Shippingport Atomic Power Station in Pennsylvania, 1957.
Two perspectives of a single hologram, projected on screens when a laser passes through the hologram at different places, 1966. Hologram made by Juris Upatnieks.
A scientist holds a plastic block that he blasted with charged electric particle while investigating the notion of lightning as a rain trigger, 1962.
Shipboard laboratory equipment used for measuring sea water to detect any traces of radioactivity after an atomic bomb test in Bikini lagoon, 1946.
A model of an Apollo capsule simulates the return to Earth in a NASA lab, 1961.
Demonstrating early fiber optics, 1960.
A three-foot Caribbean octopus sucks the meat out of its favorite prey, the blue crab, 1953.
Fritz Goro on assignment off Bikini Atoll, shooting photographs for LIFE magazine, 1953.
A pair of 90-day-old cow fetuses clearly visible inside an amniotic sac, 1965.
Fritz Goro—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
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Photographer Spotlight: Fritz Goro

Jul 10, 2012

Capturing the utter weirdness and wonder of science through photography is a very tall order. After all, the most fascinating aspects of science (and its counterpart, technology) are often arcane, obtuse or downright incomprehensible to anyone besides .... well, scientists. Making science actually coherent and comprehensible through pictures, meanwhile — while also making the photographs themselves compelling and, if at all possible, beautiful — is not merely a tall order, but a near-impossibility.

Fritz Goro, photographer, 1955Or rather, it's a near-impossibility unless the photographer making those pictures is named Fritz Goro. A LIFE staffer for four decades, the German-born Goro (at left, in 1955) approached every story he worked on with a creativity and a kind of inspired deliberateness that earned him laurels as one of the 20th century's very greatest science photographers.

In fact, for many photography critics and scientists, alike, he was at-once the most original and the most accomplished photographer of science who ever lived.

Trained in the Bauhaus school of sculpture and design, Goro worked in Germany until the early Thirties, when he and his wife fled the country after Hitler gained power and, as Goro put it, the two of them "had to start a new life." That new life, it turned out, would center around photography — including freelance work for a brand new magazine based in New York called LIFE.

Goro liked to say that his expertise was due at least in part to his own ignorance. He photographed subjects that "more knowledgeable photographers might have considered unphotographable.... I began to take pictures of things I barely understood, using techniques I'd never used before."

He designed his own optical systems to capture (often for the first time, by anyone) everything from bioluminescence to the mechanisms behind the circulation of blood through a living body. He traveled the globe while shooting for LIFE — the Antarctic, Mexican jungles, the Australian outback — enduring brutal cold and searing heat; but more often than not, it was in the controlled, cool space of a laboratory or a studio that he crafted his most breathtaking, groundbreaking work.

When he died in 1986, at the age of 85, a former science editor at LIFE named Gerard Piel said of Goro that "it was his artistry and ingenuity that made [his] photographs of abstractions, of the big ideas from the genetic code to plate tectonics" so effective and so utterly memorable. Here, LIFE.com presents a selection of photographs that hint at the scope of Goro's achievement while paying tribute to the boundless range of human intellect, curiosity and imagination.

— Ben Cosgrove is the Editor of LIFE.com

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