Quarterly - FOCUS IN/ON

The lithograph Where Do We Go? was reproduced prior to its inclusion in Eby’s book, appearing in The New York Times Magazine (on September 9, 1928) with an alternative title Heavy Artillery, Mud and Dawn. The print depicts a long, anonymous line of soldiers trudging along parallel to the picture plane, in a frieze-like configuration. They wear the typical gear of the doughboy, including the characteristic helmet, and they shoulder their rifles and packs. There is a numb quality to this mass of men, recalling Eby’s reference in his essay to “men like maggots in a cheese—and seemingly moving as aimlessly.” Just one soldier, near the center, peers out of the picture space. As noted, Eby’s images were all based on his own experience, a point he emphasized in his essay, and perhaps the visual engagement of this soldier with the viewer is to underscore that fact.

Next to this man, in the very center of the composition, is another soldier, singled out by the way in which he carries his rifle. He has a cigarette in his mouth, and Eby has given it prominence by making it one of the brightest objects in the gloomy, dark print. During World War I, cigarettes were freely distributed to the doughboys. Their ability to relieve some of the stress of the battlefield was a chief reason that the government made cigarettes so available to soldiers, and in fact, General Pershing gave priority to their shipment to the front. The result of this easy access is that cigarette use among men rose in this period by over 600 percent, and by World War II, they were considered part of the GI’s typical and critical gear. Eby used the particular qualities of lithography (one of the freest of the printmaking media since it is capable of accurately reproducing an artist’s most subtle drawing) to strong effect in this print, not only by highlighting the central soldier’s cigarette, but also by giving an oppressive darkness to the image as a whole, which blurs the individuality of the soldiers and which lends a weariness to all the men and even to the print’s background.

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