“Camera!” (E68)

  • Originally printed:  The New Yorker, October 27, 1934
  • First reprinted in:  Never reprinted
  • Original Byline:  Guy Fawkes



Can this really be our first Benchley essay from 1934? I guess it can – that sidebar category list wouldn’t lie.

Here we find Guy Fawkes in excellent form, musing upon the mysteries of facsimile photojournalism. Gone are the days of pacing the hallways waiting for some intrepid aviator to get those Transatlantic assassination pics to a press near you. Thanks to the magic of wireless image transmission, you can drink in last night’s European tragedy with your morning coffee, as long as you don’t mind seeing it through a glass very darkly. I located some of the connect-the-dot fiascos Fawkes describes (see images below) and he’s not exaggerating one bit – they’re like a glimpse into Tolkien’s Ring Wraith dimension. Honestly, if things are this bad, why not just have your reporter call in and describe the scene to a sketch artist?

The assassination of King Alexander and Mr. Barthou, undertaken by Macedonian nationalists with a Balkan beef against the makeshift Versailles state of Yugoslavia, is just another roiling reminder of the interwar political instability that would lead inexorably to the nightmare of 1939. Fawkes has little to say about the slain king and French foreign minister themselves – and who can blame him? A steady diet of these fridge art frauds would be enough to rub out any reader’s sense of reality.

Fawkes argues that the rising reputation of the shutterbug set is equally gauzy. Beyond the soft-focus celebration of the occasionally arresting moments captured for eternity by lucky lensers lies the unpalatable fact of fifty thousand photo ops that only a publicist could love. Benchley is more favorably impressed by current trends in baseball writing (they’re actually starting to deliver intelligible accounts of the games!) and in the general quality of writing on offer in the Herald Tribune (which he would prefer to deride, having once been dismissed from that august organ). He concludes by excoriating Theodore Dreiser’s coverage of the Robert Evans murder trial for the Post (“an example of bad newspaper writing – or any writing, for that matter”) and The American‘s singularly off-putting new page layouts (“masterpieces of chaos”).

All in all, a very satisfying Wayward Press piece, as you might expect.

Favorite Moment:

And so we see what advantages are ours in the days of modern photography. The day after an event has occurred in Europe, we can see a picture of something else! The only trouble lies in the advent of the old-fashioned, plodding originals a week later.   

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