Here's a word to the wise for all you photo collectors and would-be photo collectors out there. I had a nice long talk with a TOP reader named Rodger Kingston recently. Rodger's a fine photographer in his own right, and he's had a long, multi-part, multi-path career in photography. In the 1970s, he owned a photography gallery that specialized in 19th-century prints. He wasn't able to afford for himself much of the better work he handled, but he did start collecting the "little things" that came into his hands—the odds and ends that didn't have a ready market and seemed to him to need a home.
Well, lo and behold, several decades later, his by-now extensive collection of between-the-cracks stuff constitutes a major collection. What he once called "junk" is now called "vernacular photography," and the collection as a whole recently appraised for—hold on to your hat—$4.3 million! What started out as a labor of love and enthusiasm turned into a pretty nice retirement plan. (Note: if you're young now, someday you'll be hearing the same thing about collections of prints from the early digital era—now, that would be—even prints not by "name" photographers. Mark my words.)
Shows what you can end up with when you just start collecting what you like, and what you can.
The Kingston Collection is the subject of a new and particularly delightful little book called In the Vernacular: Photography of the Everyday published by Boston University Art Gallery. It's a modestly-sized paperback and not thick, but it's a little treasure-box of photographic riches, giving a good idea of the sweep and variety of the collection as a whole. I haven't read the extensive selection of essays yet, but I'm looking forward to that. The pictures are wonderful—everything from Tom Kelley's Marilyn Monroe pinup in a pirated calendar, to automobile ads, to forensic photographs, to cyanotypes, to photo-booth strips, to stereographs, to lenticular postcards (you know, that magically transform when you change your viewing angle). I have only one complaint, and that is that there isn't enough. I could have looked at three or four times as many. (There are 70 0bjects shown in the book, 175 in the exhibition, and 4,000 in the collection.)
In the Vernacular also has the distinction of being one of the very last—if not the last—book printed at the fabled Stinehour Press in Lunenburg, Vermont, source of so many fine American photo books over the years.
This isn't a major book, but it's a particularly enjoyable minor one. I can't see how it would be out of place in anyone's library, and it surely provides more enjoyment per ounce (and per dollar—only fifteen bucks!) than many weightier tomes.
Gets a strong recommendation from me. I like this kind of thing. I've been through it several times now and I know I'll be back again.
Featured Comment by Stacey McCarroll Cutshaw: "Thank you for the nice piece on Rodger's collection and the 'In the Vernacular' project. Just wanted to let folks know that the book is also available via the Boston University Art Gallery website, and this might solve the problem for your reader in Canada."
(Note: Stacey was Curator and Director of the Boston University Art Gallery until 2007. She co-curated the "In the Vernacular: Everyday Photographs from the Collection of Rodger Kingston" show with Ross Barrett. —Ed.)