James Thurber
[Writer and humorist, b. 1894, Columbus, Ohio, d. 1961, New York.]

 Has photography gone too far? It would be cowardly to answer the question I have posed with a time-worn and evasive “Yes and no,” just as it would be flippant to answer it with “Who cares?” and ignorant to reply “I do not know.” I think there can be no question but that photography has gone too far, but I feel confident that it can get back, if it wants to. In that phrase “if it wants to” which I have italicized, there might seem to be a certain ominous significance, but as a matter of fact there isn’t at all; I italicized it simply because I wanted to sharpen the interest of my readers, if any are still sticking with me. The whole subject of photography has to be italicized for the average reader or he will turn to some other subject quicker than you can say “Alfred Stieglitz.”

Several years ago I remember going to an exhibition of photographs in the modern manner. Most of the pictures were highly artistic. There were photographs of balls of twine, of shadows cast by the Sixth Avenue “L,” of a lady’s hand holding some eggshells and rubies, of a horse’s mouth taken from the ground just in front of the horse by a photographer who was laying on his back (it was a gentle old horse), of a girl laying on her back as seen through a champagne glass, etc. It was difficult for me, an amateur, to know what to say about many of the pictures, especially the one of the horse’s mouth, because you could see his teeth and the picture looked at first like a balloon landing in a cemetery. So I didn’t say anything.

This kind of photography started, I believe, in fairly recent years. Somebody, maybe Man Ray (I never go into any subject thoroughly enough to know much about it), first began to take pictures of such groupings as a litter of tenpenny nails, a white door-knob, an elk’s tooth, and a strip of silk torn from a gentleman’s dressing gown. Thus one picture led to another until now there are several hundred million photographs of this nature, no two of them exactly alike but thousands of them seeming to be exactly alike. Any given object, whether animal, vegetable, or mineral, has been photographed in juxtaposition to every other known object. I have seen photographs of sparkplugs lying next to hairpins; a chipmunk’s skull with bachelor’s-button for eyes; a woman’s hand holding the sawed off part of a double-barreled shotgun; a silk hat in which several eggbeaters and a whiskbroom had been tastefully arranged; and a Bengal tiger studying with mild alarm a plate of buttons from a naval officer’s mess jacket.

Personally, I don’t care how many strange photographs are taken and exhibited. All that worries me is what is going to happen to me. I like to be photographed, and I come from a long line of ancestors who liked to be photographed. My Grandfather Fisher liked to be photographed so well that we have one old Fisher family album in which there is nothing but photographs of my grandfather. In not one of them, however, is he shown lying on his back with a dahlia in his mouth.