Snapshot Chronicles: Inventing the American Photo Album

Overview

Today, the photo album is something we practically take for granted, and "scrapbooking" is a billion dollar industry with its own television network. It was not always so. Before the camera, ordinary families had little more than the family Bible, a portrait of grandpa, and a drawer full of documents. Then Eastman Kodak introduced the Brownie, giving Americans the means to document and record their daily lives. Hundreds of thousands of these cameras were produced, and as a result small collections of photographs ...
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Overview

Today, the photo album is something we practically take for granted, and "scrapbooking" is a billion dollar industry with its own television network. It was not always so. Before the camera, ordinary families had little more than the family Bible, a portrait of grandpa, and a drawer full of documents. Then Eastman Kodak introduced the Brownie, giving Americans the means to document and record their daily lives. Hundreds of thousands of these cameras were produced, and as a result small collections of photographs were assembled and preserved in an astonishing assortment of albums, with photographs as the raw material for collages, constructions, and text experiments.

Snapshot Chronicles is a visual exploration of the creative outpouring made possible by the camera. Friends, family, travel, domestic life, special occasions, the workplace, farm and city lifethese were all intermingled in early albums in surprising and dynamic forms. Men, women, and even children became the creators of their own visual biographies, and documenters of previously unprecedented aspects of American life.

Four essayists weave together the history of the photo album, making them not just a part of our past but a significant aspect of Americana. Snapshot Chronicles is designed by noted graphic designer Martin Venezky (It Is Beautiful...Then Gone).

Copublished with the Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery, Reed College.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Curator and photo album collector Levine feels that whenever she opens an album she is "activating a story"-the annals of a family, the tale of middle-class striving, the story of Americans developing visual literacy and gaining fluency with photography's new idiom. Levine and fellow curator Snyder have produced far more than a catalogue to a San Francisco exhibition opening in April or a coffee-table book-they have made a beautiful, quirky history of photo albums. The green, velvety cover itself has the aura of an old-time album, and the scads of reproduced photographs are a visual feast. One album the editors highlight features the young Al Capone; others showcase anonymous happy families, college students, even the occasional chicken. The images are enriched by the editors' argument that photo albums embody the same impulse as quilts and embroidered samplers: all are narratives in pictures. Largely responsible for the creation of the photo album was George Eastman, whose company, Kodak, not only hawked the Brownie camera, but also created the cultural icon of the elegant matriarch who preserved family memories through the camera and album. Unfortunately, the print is small and difficult to read, making it likely that readers will simply flip through this fascinating and informative cultural history. (Feb. 23) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Levine (deputy director, Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco) and Snyder (director & chief curator, Douglas F. Colley Memorial Art Gallery, Reed Coll.) have joined forces with noted graphic designer Martin Venezky to produce this compendium of photo albums dating from 1890 to 1930 that were originally exhibited at Reed College in Portland, OR. The advent of Kodak's Brownie camera in 1900 opened the door for the common people to document their lives, experiences, and impressions; they then further expressed themselves by creating individual albums. Examples of the medium are depicted here with front covers and annotated narratives that weave together images and commentary. The pictures alone provide a poignant look at another era; fashions and settings speak of bygone, simpler days. Artistic touches and embellishments by the albums' creators foretell an art/craft form in the making. Relationships, family, work, play, travel, special occasions, war, and beauty are all subjects that were captured and preserved. This book will make a welcome addition to public and special libraries, where everyone from history buffs to scrapbookers will appreciate it.-Karen MacMurray, Cape Coral P.L., FL Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781568985572
  • Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press
  • Publication date: 4/1/2006
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 10.37 (w) x 10.25 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephanie Snyder is Director and Chief Curator of the Douglas F. Colley Memorial Art Gallery, Reed College, Portland, Oregon.

Barbara Levine runs Project b, a curatorial services and project management company, and is an avid photo album collector.

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  • Posted January 22, 2009

    beginning of the photo album as a type of social history

    The cover is velvet, like one of those fancy Victorian-era photo albums. 'Snapshot Chronicles' accompanies an exhibition at Reed College of innumerable photographs collected by the Cooley Gallery curator Barbara Levine. The photographs are kept together as they were in albums of their original owners or in the case of those not going with an album, in groups of similarly pictured individuals or similar subject matter. The source of the photographs was the Kodak Brownie camera introduced as a consumer item in 1900. This quickly led to an explosion of photographs of friends, relatives, yards and neighborhoods, vacation scenes, and varied activities (much as the cell phone has spurred new kinds of communication these days, one assumes). The photos were kept in 'vernacular' photo albums whose charm to later generations is explained by Willard Morgan, the Director of the Museum of Modern Art's Department of Photography in 1944, 'The snapshot has become, in truth, a folk art, spontaneous, almost effortless, yet deeply expressive. It is an honest art...partly because it is simply more trouble to make an untrue picture than a true picture.' The hundreds of simple, yet fetching snapshots were taken before the days when artists, photojournalists, advertisers, and propagandists started to make use of cameras for their own specialized ends. Thus, the guileless, popular, vernacular snapshots can be seen as an unwitting visual social history of the era too.

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