Stephen Leacock

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Analysis of "With the Photographer" by Stephen Leacock.

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Certainly! "With the Photographer" by Stephen Leacock is a humorous essay that satirizes the experience of having one's photograph taken by a professional photographer. Leacock uses wit and irony to critique the absurdity and discomfort often associated with formal photography sessions.


The essay recounts the protagonist's visit to a professional photographer's studio. The protagonist is subjected to a series of awkward and uncomfortable adjustments by the photographer, who seems more interested in achieving his artistic vision than in making the subject feel at ease. The photographer's obsession with minor details and his condescending attitude create a comical scenario that highlights the absurdity of the situation.


  1. Absurdity of Perfectionism: The photographer's meticulous adjustments to the protagonist's appearance and posture reveal the absurd lengths to which people go to achieve a perfect photograph. This theme is emphasized by the exaggerated and often unnecessary changes the photographer insists upon.

  2. Discomfort and Alienation: The protagonist's discomfort and alienation are central to the essay. The photographer's impersonal and mechanical approach to his work makes the protagonist feel like an object rather than a person. This theme is underscored by the protagonist's increasing frustration and helplessness.

  3. Irony and Satire: Leacock employs irony and satire to critique the pretentiousness of professional photographers. The photographer's inflated sense of importance and his disregard for the protagonist's comfort are portrayed in a humorous light, revealing the absurdity of the situation.

Literary Devices

  1. Irony: The essay is rich in irony, particularly situational irony. For example, the protagonist goes to the photographer with the expectation of getting a good photograph but ends up with a comically exaggerated and unflattering image.

  2. Hyperbole: Leacock uses hyperbole to emphasize the absurdity of the photographer's actions. The exaggerated adjustments and the photographer's grandiose language highlight the ridiculousness of the situation.

  3. Dialogue: The dialogue between the protagonist and the photographer is a key element of the essay's humor. The photographer's pompous and condescending tone contrasts sharply with the protagonist's increasing frustration, creating a comedic effect.

Example Passages

Consider the following passage where the photographer adjusts the protagonist's posture:

"He moved my head on one side with a gentle push, and then stood looking at it critically, with his head on one side, and then on the other. 'That will do,' he said. 'Just turn your face a little upwards. No, not quite so much—just a little. Yes, that's better. Now just expand the chest. Just a little more—don't be afraid of it.'"

This passage exemplifies the photographer's obsessive attention to detail and the protagonist's passive compliance, which together create a humorous and absurd scenario.


Stephen Leacock's "With the Photographer" is a humorous critique of the professional photography experience. Through irony, hyperbole, and witty dialogue, Leacock exposes the absurdity of the quest for photographic perfection and the discomfort it imposes on the subject. The essay remains a timeless satire on the pretentiousness and alienation often associated with formal portrait photography.

Expert Answers

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The response generated is correct; "With the Photographer" is an essay satirizing the author's experience of sitting for a professional photographer. More than merely critiquing the absurdity of their session through wit and irony, Leacock points to the harm society does by striving for perfect appearances.

As the response notes, the photographer seems more interested in achieving his artistic vision than capturing the subject's likeness. The photographer's attitude is condescending as he criticizes the sitter's imperfections. The essay, however, is less a comical scenario highlighting the absurdity of the situation and more a critique of society's pursuit of perfection equal to images portrayed in mass media. It is no coincidence that the sitter spends an hour flipping through pages of "The Ladies Companion for 1912, the Girls Magazine for 1902, and the Infants Journal for 1888." The images in those magazines are of perfect human beings, in contrast to his own image, which is marked by the imperfections that all people show in real life.

The photographer wants to duplicate the touchup processes the magazines likely use to "improve" nature. The author's use of irony and even sarcasm underscore the absurdity and meanness of the situation. The photographer's lack of self-awareness about his demeaning attitude and the sitter's objective underscore just how harmful the situation is, as we see the sitter break down in tears as he leaves without the retouched and useless photo.

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