The Art of the American Snapshot, 1888-1978

Overview

The impact of the humble American snapshot has been anything but humble. Any American who takes a snapshot contributes to a compelling and influential genre. Since 1888, when George Eastman introduced the Kodak camera and roll film, the snapshot has not only changed everyday American life and memory; it has also changed the history of fine art photography. The distinctive subject matter and visual vocabulary of the American snapshot—its poses, facial expressions, viewpoints, framing, and themes—influenced ...

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Overview

The impact of the humble American snapshot has been anything but humble. Any American who takes a snapshot contributes to a compelling and influential genre. Since 1888, when George Eastman introduced the Kodak camera and roll film, the snapshot has not only changed everyday American life and memory; it has also changed the history of fine art photography. The distinctive subject matter and visual vocabulary of the American snapshot—its poses, facial expressions, viewpoints, framing, and themes—influenced modernist photographers as they explored spontaneity, objectivity, and new topics and perspectives. A richly illustrated chronicle of the first century of snapshot photography in America, The Art of the American Snapshot is the first book to examine the evolution of this most common form of American photography. The book shows that among the countless snapshots taken by American amateurs, some works, through intention or accident, continue to resonate long after their intimate context and original meaning have been lost.

The catalogue of a fall 2007 exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, The Art of the American Snapshot reproduces some 250 snapshots drawn from Robert Jackson's outstanding collection and from a recent gift Jackson made to the museum. Organized decade by decade, the book traces the evolution of American snapshot imagery and describes how technical, social, and cultural factors affected the look of snapshots at different periods.

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Editorial Reviews

Choice
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.
The New Yorker - John Updike
The prints in The Art of the American Snapshot are reproduced at their actual modest size, with lots of blazingly white space, and have taken their riddles into oblivion with their anonymous creators...The camera, that highly evolved mechanism, put into Everyman's untrained hands the chance to become, if half by accident, a death-defying artist. The collector Robert Jackson deserves the last shot; his afterword to the catalogue manages to cast a pall of reasonableness over his curious passion.
New York Review of Books - Caleb Crain
The photos, chosen for the pleasure they give, and the text. which aims to recount photographic history, sometimes seem at odds, but the ways people took snapshots, what they took snapshots of, and how they presented themselves to the camera changed with time, and Jackson's sample is large enough to allow speculation about the nature of the changes. . . .
Wall Street Journal - Richard B. Woodward
Professionals who leaf through The Art of the American Snapshot 1888-1978 may despair as they realize that offhand efforts with a camera frequently produce more visual excitement than their studied excercises...Sarah Greenough...and her colleagues help to give meaning to the ordinary by probing, in their essays, how deeply the artless has shaped what we now consider art.
Financial Times - Claire Holland
The Art of the American Snapshot celebrates the humble snapshot with a collection of anonymous images belonging to art historian Robert E. Jackson.
Copley News Service - Linda Rosenkrantz
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.
Chronicle of Higher Education - Louis P. Masur
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.
Edmonton Journal - J. Victor Taboika
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.
Afterimage - Meghan C. Smith
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 beThis 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.
Toronto Star - Peter Goddard
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.
Museum Magazine - Steven Lubar
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.
Journal of American Studies - Wendy E. Ward
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.
Sexton

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.
University of Alaska, Anchorage, for "CHOICE - emeritus Sexton
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.
From the Publisher
Winner of the 2008 Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Award
Winner of the 2008 Bronze Medal in Photography, Independent Publisher Book Awards
Shortlisted for the 2008 Kraszna-Krausz Award in Best Photography Book
First Prize in the American Association of Museums Publication Design Competition

"The prints in The Art of the American Snapshot are reproduced at their actual modest size, with lots of blazingly white space, and have taken their riddles into oblivion with their anonymous creators...The camera, that highly evolved mechanism, put into Everyman's untrained hands the chance to become, if half by accident, a death-defying artist. The collector Robert Jackson deserves the last shot; his afterword to the catalogue manages to cast a pall of reasonableness over his curious passion."—John Updike, The New Yorker

"The photos, chosen for the pleasure they give, and the text. which aims to recount photographic history, sometimes seem at odds, but the ways people took snapshots, what they took snapshots of, and how they presented themselves to the camera changed with time, and Jackson's sample is large enough to allow speculation about the nature of the changes. . . ."—Caleb Crain, New York Review of Books

"Professionals who leaf through The Art of the American Snapshot 1888-1978 may despair as they realize that offhand efforts with a camera frequently produce more visual excitement than their studied excercises...Sarah Greenough...and her colleagues help to give meaning to the ordinary by probing, in their essays, how deeply the artless has shaped what we now consider art."—Richard B. Woodward, Wall Street Journal

"The Art of the American Snapshot celebrates the humble snapshot with a collection of anonymous images belonging to art historian Robert E. Jackson."—Claire Holland, Financial Times

"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

Afterimage
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
New York Review of Books
The photos, chosen for the pleasure they give, and the text. which aims to recount photographic history, sometimes seem at odds, but the ways people took snapshots, what they took snapshots of, and how they presented themselves to the camera changed with time, and Jackson's sample is large enough to allow speculation about the nature of the changes. . . .
— Caleb Crain
Wall Street Journal
Professionals who leaf through The Art of the American Snapshot 1888-1978 may despair as they realize that offhand efforts with a camera frequently produce more visual excitement than their studied excercises...Sarah Greenough...and her colleagues help to give meaning to the ordinary by probing, in their essays, how deeply the artless has shaped what we now consider art.
— Richard B. Woodward
Financial Times
The Art of the American Snapshot celebrates the humble snapshot with a collection of anonymous images belonging to art historian Robert E. Jackson.
— Claire Holland
Copley News Service
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
Chronicle of Higher Education
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
Edmonton Journal
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
American Photo
This offbeat history is beautifully illustrated with snapshot-sized reproductions, smartly edited by Sarah Greenough and fellow curators.
Toronto Star
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
ArtNet
The photographs seize the page with humor, or dourness, or supple aplomb.
Museum Magazine
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
Journal of American Studies
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
The New Yorker
The prints in The Art of the American Snapshot are reproduced at their actual modest size, with lots of blazingly white space, and have taken their riddles into oblivion with their anonymous creators...The camera, that highly evolved mechanism, put into Everyman's untrained hands the chance to become, if half by accident, a death-defying artist. The collector Robert Jackson deserves the last shot; his afterword to the catalogue manages to cast a pall of reasonableness over his curious passion.
— John Updike
Library Journal

Snapshots have been a hallmark of photography since cameras were made available to the masses, telling not just of things near and dear to people's hearts but of the darker sides of the human psyche as well. Accompanying a fall 2007 exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, this catalog examines the history of the snapshot from 1888 to 1978, reproducing some 250 photos culled from Robert E. Jackson's collection and arranging them by decade. 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

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691133683
  • Publisher: National Gallery of Art
  • Publication date: 8/27/2007
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 1,014,887
  • Product dimensions: 8.70 (w) x 11.80 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Sarah Greenough is curator and head of the department of photographs at the National Gallery of Art. She has organized numerous exhibitions that have traveled to museums around the world and is the author of many books, including "Andre Kertesz; Alfred Stieglitz: The Key Set; Robert Frank: Moving Out"; and "Walker Evans: Subways and Streets". Diane Waggoner, Sarah Kennel, and Matthew S. Witkovsky are assistant curators of photographs at the National Gallery of Art. Waggoner is curator and author of "The Beauty of Life: William Morris and the Art of Design", and Witkovsky is curator and author of "Foto: Modernity in Central Europe, 1918-1945".

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