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The Hippocratic Oath of a Photographer

Written more than six decades before the advent of Google Image Search and Flickr, magazine art director M.F. Agha’s 1937 rant against photography clichés, from the International Center of Photography’s library collection, makes even more sense in the image-saturated present.

Written nearly seven decades before the advent of Google Image Search and Flickr, magazine art director M.F. Agha’s 1937 rant against photography clichés, from the International Center of Photography’s library collection, makes even more sense in the image-saturated present. An accomplished photographer himself, Agha brought imagery by well-known artists, including photographer Edward Steichen and painter Charles Sheeler, to the pages of Vanity Fair and Vogue, and his oath seems to call out works by some of the era’s top photographers: “cabbages cut in half,” for instance, is likely a nod to Edward Weston, while mentions of “plaster casts of Greek statues” and a “picture of an egg” probably refer to works by Paul Outerbridge. In 1931, Agha called Outerbridge a “pioneer,” before hitting on a theme that underlies this oath of six years later: “There is indeed a great similarity between the symbolic guitar of Picasso repeated in countless canvases of the followers — and the symbolic eggs of Outerbridge, equally popular with photographers who decided to ‘go modern.'” Given his apparent admiration for such photographers, the title of his manifesto, then, reads as a twist on the physician’s oath, only he vows to “first do no harm” to the legacies of true innovators.

Image used with permission.