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The Art of the American Snapshot, 1888-1978
Sarah Greenough & Diane Waggoner
With Sarah Kennel & Matthew S. Witkovsky

Book Description


"It's only in the past couple of decades that you would hear the words 'art' and 'snapshot' uttered in the same sentence, but these vernacular photos have slowly but surely edged into that realm... Demonstrating how the introduction and widespread use of the Kodak Brownie and other cheap cameras democratized photography and documented everyday American life, the book contains some 250 representative snapshots, organized chronologically, from carefully posed and composed turn-of-the-century silver print portraits to some humorous 1970s Polaroids. A substantive, definitive work."--Linda Rosenkrantz, Copley News Service

"Gazing at the images gathered here, which come from the collection of Robert E. Jackson, an art historian and businessman, I was struck by the recurrence of themes: domesticity, laughter, clowning, leisure activities. Through the decades, Americans hide their faces, cavort at the beach, take portraits of their children, and are caught unawares, asleep, or sometimes in acts of intimacy...Each photograph is personal, and yet for each era, every photograph is also in some essential way the same."--Louis P. Masur, Chronicle of Higher Education

"Regardless of how banal the incident being photographed might be, or how out of focus the resulting picture is, [the photos] were taken with a view to recording something the taker regarded as worth remembering. This is a book of those memories, and some of them are oddly touching. The result is a package of images that are moving, funny and often highly unconventional and surprisingly inventive."--J. Victor Taboika, Edmonton Journal

"While other books and exhibitions on snapshots have focused more on the pictures themselves, e.g., Douglas R. Nickel's Snapshots: The Photography of Everyday Life, 1888 to the Present, Greenough, Diane Waggoner, Sarah Kennel, and Matthew S. Witkovsky, all with the National Gallery of Art, here cover the cultural history as well as the technology that has influenced how people take pictures. A time line with pictures of the cameras, chapter endnotes, and a selected bibliography complete the work. Recommended for academic libraries as well as public libraries with a photographic interest."--Ronald S. Russ, Library Journal

"This offbeat history is beautifully illustrated with snapshot-sized reproductions, smartly edited by Sarah Greenough and fellow curators."--American Photo

"Full of deceptive moments, tableaus, and oddities, The Art of the American Snapshot 1888-1978 offers probably the most comprehensive explanation of how contemporary photography came to be…This beautifully arranged book is full of delightful images that will bring a smile to your face with each turn of the page. . . . Photography walks a unique line between old and new, high-art and commonplace; and The Art of the American Snapshot aims to bridge the gap and illustrate that, despite its evolution, photography is still about the people."--Meghan C. Smith, Afterimage

"Organized chronologically, The Art of the American Snapshot surveys four epochs of picture-taking. Relatively free of art cant, it zips along from George Eastman's early Kodak cameras, which appeared before the turn of the last century--to Polaroid's Land Camera beginning in 1948, spewing out black-and-white prints in 60 seconds. . . . At each turn, photographic technology is shown accelerating the pace with modern North American life."--Peter Goddard, Toronto Star

"The photographs seize the page with humor, or dourness, or supple aplomb."--ArtNet

"The age of the snapshot began in earnest with the introduction by George Eastman in 1888 of a camera that used film, not glass plates, and was small enough to be held in the hand. This book traces the development of a snapshot aesthetic, and makes a convincing argument that technological changes such as the introduction of the 35 mm camera influenced how the photographs were taken and how they were seen."--T. Sexton, emeritus, University of Alaska, Anchorage, for CHOICE

"An exceptional exhibition and catalog that satisfies both as art and history. These are images collected for their aesthetics--and the collector and curators chose well--but the excellent essays move beyond appearance to history, melding the two in exemplary ways. The book, with its images arranged chronologically, will serve any collector or museum as a guide to the history of vernacular photography, its tools and changing styles, and also provides an immensely satisfying portfolio of images."--Steven Lubar, Museum Magazine

"While a few history books and exhibitions have previously detailed the snapshot's contribution to the medium, no volume to date quite hits all the buttons this one does. The Art of the American Snapshot not only surveys relevant historical, technical, formal and advertising developments, but more critically situates snapshot photography as a potent aesthetic and cultural force within twentieth-century American society, further exploring the increasingly blurry lines between domestic and public spheres, personal and collective memory, private and civic lives."--Wendy E. Ward, Journal of American Studies


"This book fills a huge scholarly void. Although the snapshot is perhaps the most ubiquitous form of photography, there has been no sustained study of it, only an essay or two here and there, and rarely written from the viewpoint of photography historians. This book provides a good photo-historical approach to the snapshot--its social and cultural meanings through time, its influences on the fine arts, and its contribution to visualizing modern social relations."--Anthony W. Lee, Northwestern University

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File created: 4/21/2017

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