Deep Media

Kevin Hamilton and I presented a paper at the University of Durham’s Business of War Photography conference this past summer (2014) on the work of Harold Edgerton and his collaborators in  the development of both flash photography and atomic bomb firing during World War II. The abstract reads as follows:

This paper considers the history of EG&G, Inc. in America’s nuclear weapons program. EG&G was co-founded by M.I.T.’s Harold Edgerton, Kenneth J. Germeshausen, and Herbert E. Grier after World War II in order to serve the nuclear weapons timing and firing needs of the U.S. Department of Defense and Atomic Energy Commission. Eventually, EG&G would be responsible for some of the most spectacular images of nuclear fireballs in the U.S. nuclear testing era. Indeed, the partnership of Edgerton, Germeshausen, and Grier began in high-speed “stroboscopic” photography in the 1930s, became focused on nuclear weapon timing and firing in 1945-1950, and eventually re-focused on high-speed photography in the 1950s. The story of EG&G, therefore, is a story of photography and what we call the “deep media” of timing, firing, and exposure. From the stroboscopic illumination of factory motors through the aerial flashing of enemy troops and the ignition of an atomic bomb, the “deep media” of timing, firing and exposure had rendered the technologies of cameras and nuclear bombs interchangeable.

“Deep media,” at least as we understand it, seems to be uncharted territory in media and technology studies, and offers a distinct means by which to look beyond ‘object’ and ‘artifact’ to the underlying technical processes upon which technological innovation seems to depend. Over the next several years I will be working with Kevin and Chad Wellmon to develop the notion of “deep media” and consider its usefulness for technology and media studies. (For all those worried about by ‘rhetoric’ creds in this, I very much envision deep media as the technical analogs to rhetorical topoi.) If the notion of the “deep media of timing, firing, and exposure” intrigues you and you want to learn more about what we are up to, drop me a note. Our hope is to convene a conference in 2015-16 around the still developing notion.

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