Your Media Literacy

– Printing Technology

What media technology innovations do you believe rivals the transformational impact of Johannes Gutenberg’s movable metal type?

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2.3 Chemical Technology

Study Preview Historically, photography is rooted in chemistry. The distinct technology had come of age by the time of the U.S. Civil War, creating a new kind of archival record. When techniques were devised to integrate photography into Gutenberg legacy printing, the mass media suddenly were in a new visual era. Movies also drew on chemical technology but evolved along a separate path.

Learning Objectives By the end of this module you will be able to:

  1. 2.3.1 Explain the impact of chemical technology on the evolution of photography
  2. 2.3.2 Outline developments in motion picture technology

2.3.1 Photography 1. Objective: Explain the impact of chemical technology on the evolution of


The 1727 discovery that light causes silver nitrate to darken was a breakthrough in mass communication. Scientists dabbled with the chemical for the next century. Then in 1826 Joseph Níepce found a way to capture and preserve an image on light- sensitive material. Photography was born—a chemical process for creating and recording a visual message. The technology was sufficiently established by the 1860s to create a new type of historical archive. Teams of photographers organized by Mathew Brady created an incredible visual record, much of it horrific, of the U.S. Civil War.

Over the next half-century, new technology allowed the production of photographs on

printing presses, permitting Brady’s legacy to be reflected in book form. Emotional advertisements stirred sales, promising lifelike images of “soldiers dashing and flags flying and horses leaping all over.” Hundreds of thousands of copies were sold to a generation of Civil War veterans and their families. By the time World War I began, however, the market was saturated. Also, people had new gruesome photographs from the European front. New grisliness replaced the old.

Visual Impact. With new technology in the late 1800s that could produce photographs on printing presses, newspapers and magazines suddenly had new potency in telling stories. The potential of photography to send printed media in a new direction was illustrated with painfully gory battlefield scenes from the Civil War. This visual perspective on war was mostly the work of teams of photographers organized by entrepreneur Mathew Brady.

2.3.2 Movies 1. Objective: Outline developments in motion picture technology

The motion picture, a late-1800s development, was also rooted in chemistry. The new movie technology linked the lessons of photography to the recognition of a

phenomenon called persistence of vision. It had come to be recognized in the late 1800s that the human eye retains an image for a fraction of a second. If a series of photographs captures motion at split-second intervals, those images, if flipped quickly, will trick the eye into perceiving continuous motion. For most people the illusion of motion begins with 14 photos per second.

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