Vacuum ultraviolet (VUV) emission is believed to play a major role in the development of plasma streamers in pulsed atmospheric discharges, but detection of VUV light is difficult in pulsed experiments at atmospheric pressures. Since VUV light is absorbed in most standard optical materials as well, careful attention must be given to the selection of the lens and mirror optics used in these studies. Of highest interest is the VUV emission during the initial stage of pulsed atmospheric discharges, which has a typical duration in the nanosecond regime. An experiment was designed to study this fast initial stage of VUV emission coupled with fast optical imaging of streamer propagation, both with temporal resolution on the order of nanoseconds. A repetitive solid-state high voltage pulser was constructed which produces triggered flashover discharges with low jitter and consistent pulse amplitude. VUV emission is captured utilizing both photomultiplier and intensified charge-coupled device detectors during the fast stage of streamer propagation. These results are discussed in context with the streamer formation photographed in the visible wavelength regime with 3 ns exposure time.