The Medium and The Message

„The medium is the message.“
| Marshall McLuhan

What is a medium and how is it related to photography?

Marshall McLuhan was an artist working with words. While being an English professor in real life, his thoughtfulness combined with his careful use of words and intent made him one of the important fore-thinkers in the middle of the last century. In 1958 at a conference in Vancouver he postulated that “The medium is the message because it is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action. The content or uses of such media are as diverse as they are ineffectual in shaping the form of human association. Indeed, it is only too typical that the “content” of any medium blinds us to the character of the medium.” Later on, in 1964 he wrote these ideas up as the first chapter of Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, 1964, p.9.

McLuhan rather talked about technology in itself, but about the effects technology has on human behavior and human societies. He didn’t meant to say that the channels are more important than the content and that information content can therefore be ignored. McLuhan emphasized that every innovation we create has unanticipated consequences that mankind was not aware of while creating the innovation. In his sense, a medium is defined as the extension of our body or senses or mind from which a change emerges. McLuhan argues that a message is “the change of scale or pace or pattern” that a new invention or innovation “introduces into human affairs.” (McLuhan). As said before, it is not about the innovation itself, but about the changing inner- and interpersonal dynamics the innovation brings along. Against this backdrop, language is a medium that extend our minds supporting us to express our thoughts and ideas to others; a tool such as a hammer extends our arms and hands supporting us to create things. 

What about photography? Photography is a medium that extends our minds, hearts and soul. In earlier blog posts I argued about the essence of a place in a time and finding the meaning in yourself. The essence is potentially what we find in our soul, the meaning emerges in our heart and our mind interprets, frames and communicates the meaning. The result of this process is a message that we artists feel to express and deliver. Through the editing process of photography we sharpen this message. In a later post, I am going to come back to these elements supporting us to sharpen our message. However, our process doesn’t stop here. McLuhan referred with the word medium to the environmental effects rather than to the content or the channel itself. Only in the effect to the viewer, the reaction triggered by our photograph our message achieves a ground. It has arrived. Sometimes these effects are unanticipated and longterm, but photography should evoke such an impact, while the kind of result may differ across individuals.


McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York: McGraw Hill, 1964.

Federman, M. (2004, July 23). What is the Meaning of the Medium is the Message? Retrieved 17/09/2019, from .