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Monday, 09 October 2023


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I wrote about something similar regarding finding lots of photographs at an auction where people aren’t doing anything. And it reminds me of what people are doing nowadays with selfies. “Here I am here, now here I am here.” https://6x6portraits.wordpress.com/2023/03/27/a-whole-lot-of-pictures-of-a-whole-lot-of-people-doing-a-whole-lot-of-nothing/

I wonder, like the tree falling in the woods, if a snapshooter accidentally produces a one-in-a-million aesthetically perfect photograph but the photo is never seen by a photo picker with an eye to recognize its perfection, is it still perfect? Or is the perfection created by the beholder? The result perhaps of the way they were trained to think of perfection in photographs either by their formal education or the circles they move in.

My wife's great aunt was a snapshooter and most of her photos, from the perspective of a non-relative, were bad or more generously, not good. One though, sticks in my mind {http://jims-ramblings.blogspot.com/search?q=currie} as at least near perfect, an image of her brother with his firstborn. To me it is perfect, but my opinion is perhaps colored by the fact that many years after the photo was made I knew Stanley and his daughter.

I contend that there are no perfect images, only images that connect to an audience even if only to an audience of one. Isn't that the whole point of photography, to share with another person or persons something that struck the photographer as worthy of sharing? And I know from experience that an image that connects with one person often fails completely with others.

Snapshot or Not?

Immediately prior, Anders had been photographing the lunar surface with a 250 mm lens; the lens was subsequently used for the Earthrise images.

Anders: Oh my God! Look at that picture over there! There's the Earth coming up. Wow, that's pretty.
Borman: Hey, don't take that, it's not scheduled. (joking)
Anders: (laughs) You got a color film, Jim?
Hand me that roll of color quick, would you...
Lovell: Oh man, that's great!


"Bud, with his fancy Nikon (on which he knows how to operate exactly six of the thirty-seven available controls) ... "

I was once responsible for an electronic device used in medical research of which we said, "It has more than fifty controls and no customer uses more than five ... but each customer uses a different five."

This post is a ‘snapshot’. Read into the comment what you will, but I LOVED the post (both of them 😉)!!!

"What is notable about these vernacular family photos is that they overwhelmingly have zero aesthetic merit."

There's more to photographs and photography than aesthetics and, as MJ wrote in an earlier post about documentary, "personal expressivity".

I've been using cameras since 1976. As I've got older I've come to appreciate photographs that are primarily about what they depict far more than those that have been made for solely aesthetic or expressive reasons.

A casual snap of a family member may be treasured far more than a carefully staged portrait. There's a world of photography beyond that of the serious photographer and the gallery world.

We should treasure vernacular photographs. Those taken on smartphones might not survive as long as prints of old. Which will be a loss to future generations.

Of course there is no reason a photograph taken to show something can't be made with a view to aesthetics and/or expression. Form following content.

I realise I'm not making myself very clear but elitist attitudes to photographs, an egalitarian medium if ever there was one, really get my goat.

Of course "picking" is a good part of the art of photography. When I used to teach a small group of middle school kids digital photography, I would emphasize the process of becoming more picky with your photos, the idea that most of them do not turn out well, but part of developing an eye is learning to recognize when you got lucky. I would start the day by reviewing the previous week's photos, a few teacher's picks I thought were worth discussing, maybe three from each student. I do remember one student who was obviously gifted with her eye, and in her case it was hard to narrow it down, too many good ones.

Snapshots can have historical value. They also may have familial value. They usually were never conceived as artistic. However a conservator with an artistic eye could choose from a collection of snapshots a representative sample with artistic value. I am thinking of Kertez's book "On Reading" which I think has great artistic value as a collection of photographs that individually are essentially common snapshots. I despised the geographer J. B. Jackson's praise of vernacular landscapes which individually represent in pictures the 'butt ugly' of human culture. As a collection they should remind us of the need for artistic expression in our every day lives.

I would argue the vast majority of historical "snapshots" were never meant to be viewed by anyone other than family perhaps. There was never an intent of merit or technique. It was simply a documentaion important only to the beholder of the camera. In the digital age of social media, this has been overwhelmingly amplified.

Umm … I think I get more from these “nothing” photos than I do from endless beautiful photos of mountain peaks or quaint buildings. I also prefer the old family groups to the modern “here I am with a goofy expression before the leaning tower” kind of selfie that is popular nowadays. I think they often tell a story despite being “static”. For example. I particularly like Libby Hall’s collection of found photos of dogs, nearly all with (human) family members: https://tinyurl.com/y2yaevza .

For anyone whose appetite for investigating the “snapshot” aesthetic further…
In 2007 Sarah Greenough curated an exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington titled “The Art of the American Snapshot, 1888-1978”. The catalog for the show is an interesting deeper dive into the worm can Mike has opened. It’s out of print but used copies are around.

Going a step further, toward painting, I found this particularly fascinating. Snapshot: Painters and Photography, Bonnard to Vuillard examines how some renowned late 18th/early 20th century painters used early snapshot photography in their painting workflow. This book is a catalog of a show from 2012 and can be a bit hard to find, and pricey. But it’s worth keeping it on your watch list if you also enjoy studying painters.

In Japan street photographs are called "snapshots". Daido Moriyama regards himself as a sharpshooter. I guess the Japanese might regard Henri Cartier-Bresson as a snapshooter.

Terms can have different meanings in different locations. Might I suggest that your characterisation of the snapshot might resonate with many photographers who have an american or european background but not at all with those with a Japanese background. I can't speak to those with other cultural backgrounds.

Personally I think the term "snapshot" is a very appropriate term to apply to street photographs but then I also think that if Alec Webb is right that street photography is 99.9% failure then your references to the "one in a million" shot are out by several orders of magnitude, you should be talking about the "one in a thousand" shot.

It's interesting to think that the average picture taker, not someone who thinks of themself as an "amateur photographer" or better, might actually be 1,000 times better than the "one in a million" hypothesis gives them credit for.

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