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Who We Were: A Snapshot History of America
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Who We Were: A Snapshot History of America

by Michael Williams
 

Since the first snapshots were taken in 1888, Americans have used simple, inexpensive cameras to record their life stories. In the process, they have left behind millions of pictures that document the story of America. Now, for the first time, these personal photographs have been gathered together to tell the nation's history.

Overview

Since the first snapshots were taken in 1888, Americans have used simple, inexpensive cameras to record their life stories. In the process, they have left behind millions of pictures that document the story of America. Now, for the first time, these personal photographs have been gathered together to tell the nation's history.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This compilation of amateur snapshots reveals that photography in the U.S. has been a craze from its inception. George Eastman's creation of flexible film and the original Kodak box camera in 1888 gave birth to the ubiquitous snapshot. Since then, a steady progression of invention-from the one dollar Brownie in 1900, to 35mm film in the 1920s and color print film following WWII. The authors stop well short of the digital revolution (which they admit has introduced a different way of seeing), drawing to a close in 1972 with a perfect final image: the family snapshot that Apollo 16 astronaut Charles M. Duke, Jr. took on the moon. This tour of snapshot history lacks the scholarly perspectives of recent books such as 2007's The Art of the American Snapshot, taking a more populist approach and comparing snapshots to folk songs as repositories of everyday life. Commentaries on more than 350 images range from informative to obtrusive, but the images provide an irresistible blend of historical material and voyeuristic pleasures.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

After considering thousands of submissions, snapshot collectors Williams and Richard Cahan (coauthors, Richard Nickel's Chicago: Photographs of a Lost City) in collaboration with Nicholas Osborn, founder of Square America (squareamerica.com), a web site dedicated to American snapshot photography, selected this unusual variety of American pictures taken between the 1890s and early 1970s. The idea of analyzing the casual pictures taken by everyday people has enjoyed recent popularity through art exhibitions and through Sarah Greenough and others' recently published The Art of the American Snapshot, 1888-1978. Greenough's book can be regarded as the landmark text on vernacular photography because it is more a critical history than a review of common themes in snapshots, as is seen in the book reviewed here. While lacking the depth of Greenough's book, this collection succeeds in using pictures that illustrate effectively the character of different time periods; for example, the authors include many pictures taken by soldiers in both world wars. Thoughtfully put together if not groundbreaking, this is recommended as an optional purchase for public libraries.
—Eric Linderman

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780978545017
Publisher:
CityFiles Press
Publication date:
08/28/2008
Pages:
240
Product dimensions:
9.90(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range:
3 Months

What People are Saying About This

Alec Soth
"With the medium of photography, anyone can make a masterpiece. The cell-phone snapshooter is just as likely of capturing the next iconic image as the celebrated photojournalist. The higher challenge, the art - if you will, is assembling a collection of great images. With Who We Were: A Snapshot History of America, Richard Cahan and Nicolas Osborn have done just that. From hundred of brilliant fragments, they've pieced together a breathtaking view of the puzzle of America."--(Alec Soth, author of Sleeping by the Mississippi)
Luc Sante
"Who We Were is the most intimate kind of history--the past with all the laughs and chills and hesitations left in, and all the unresolved contradictions as well. It's a lovely collection of amateur photographs, some of them truly inadvertent in their glory, some potential candidates for high-art stature if they were matted and framed. Overall it's as close to a true self-portrait of the American people as you're likely to find between covers."--(Luc Sante, author of Evidence)

Meet the Author

Michael Williams and Richard Cahan write award-winning photography books. They are co-authors of Richard Nickel's Chicago: Photographs of a Lost City. Nicholas Osborn is the founder of SquareAmerica.com, a website celebrating the American snapshot. All three live in Chicago.

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