Terrible Nihilism of the Photograph


I’ve just turned the page to a new chapter of Understanding Media. It’s titled “The Photograph.” As illustration and koan for my daily McLuhan meditation I’ve chosen the above photo that I took this past winter at Ocean Park, Maine, where we’re headed later today for a family party. The forecast is for a high of 97 degrees. This will be a good day to consider an image of snow and frigid sea.

Or, as McCluhan says at page 193:

If there is, indeed, a terrible nihilism in the photo and a substitution of shadows for substance, then we are surely not the worse for knowing it.

McCluhan writes that James Joyce “knew more about the effects of the photograph on our senses, our language, and our thought processes than anybody else.”  And: “He saw the the photo as at least a rival, and perhaps a usurper, of the word, whether written or spoken.”

What if there was no photography? It now exists, in McLuhanspeak, as an extension of our being, like any other technology, and thus could conceivably be amputated or withdrawn from circulation. I for one am in favor of keeping photography,  or at least this photo. I love reliving my frozen moment in February, transmuting the air conditioned air here at our Cambridge home into the taut breath of winter.

Stay cool, my friends!

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