The word snapshot is the most ambiguous, controversial word in photography since the word art. It has been bandied about as both praise and condemnation. It has been discussed as both process and product. A snapshot may imply the hurried, passing glimpse or the treasured keepsake; its purpose may be casual observation or deliberate preservation.
I am a passionate lover of the snapshot, because of all photographic images it comes closest to truth. The snapshot is a specific spiritual moment. It cannot be willed or desired to be achieved. It simply happens, to certain people and not to others.
From 1966 to 1970 my admiration for the homemade picture was highest. What I admired was filtered directly into my photographs. I was becoming alive to certain essential qualities in family photographs. Above all, I admired what the camera made.
On Christmas mornings my father was a photographer. I remember this because the picture-taking was attended by two high-standing lamps which had been pulled down from the attic to wash the tree and living room with enough light for a proper exposure.
These photographs were made from a moving car with little time for contemplation or control. They might be called pictures about the act of photography. They are the recognition of the photographic presence of a place or moment, and like snapshots they accept the accidental conjunctions and chance incidents occurring in the frame.
Paul Strand's comments on the snapshot were taped during his trip to New York in 1973. I have always taken the position that the word snapshot doesn't really mean anything. To talk about it you almost have to begin by asking: When is a snapshot not a snapshot?
I grew up in Arlington, Virginia. As a kid, I did what I was told. I started photographing when I was twenty-one. At first I photographed mostly people. Now I am twenty-eight. The photographs in this portfolio were taken in southeastern Ohio with a Diana camera. It cost about $1.50. It is a toy camera that works well. The company also makes a cheaper model that squirts water when you press the shutter. I have developed my own method of hand-holding, sometimes shooting with my eyes closed, using the zone system, dreaming, using five different types of film.
Souvenirs of Experience: The Victorian Studio Portrait and the Twentieth-Century Snapshot There is a daguerreotype in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts taken by Josiah Hawes of his wife and child that could easily be mistaken for a snapshot.
Snapshots, photographs from family albums, are today's cave paintings, born of the same urges, rituals. I am awed by these urges and what they produce. For the past few years I have collected snapshots from family and friends and put them with my portraits.
The word snapshot, like so many other words used for the purpose of making distinctions or pigeonholing photographs and photographers, is responsible for many misunderstandings about photography. What photograph is not a snapshot, still life, document, landscape, etc.?
This essay is an adaptation of two articles written by Walker Evans for Fortune: "Main Street Looking North from Courthouse Square," May 1948; and "When Downtown Was a Beautiful Mess," January 1962. It is reprinted here with the permission of Fortune and through the courtesy of Mr. Evans.
This essay is made up of excerpts from Mr Kouwenhoven's lecture "Living in a Snapshot World." The lecture was the third in the 1972-73 Photographic Points of View Series at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Snapshots are predominantly photographs taken quickly with a minimum of deliberate posing on the part of the people represented and with a minimum of deliberate selectivity on the part of the photographer so far as vantage point and the framing or cropping of the image are concerned.
As They Were: Celebrated People's Pictures, Tuli Kupferberg and Sylvia Topp, New York, Links Books, 1973. 160 reproductions. Paperbound $2.95. This review generally reflects the influence of E. H. Gombrich. See his "The Mask and the Face: The Perception of Physiognomic Likeness in Life and in Art," in Art, Perception, and Reality, Baltimore and London, 1972.
The idea that the snapshot would be thought of as a cult or movement is very tiresome to me and, I'm sure, confusing to others. It's a swell word I've always liked. It probably came about because it describes a basic fact of photography. In a snap, or small portion of time, all that the camera can consume in breadth and bite and light is rendered in astonishing detail: all the leaves on a tree as well as the tree itself and all its surroundings.
RICHARD ALBERTINE is a professional photographer, house builder, and venturer who currently lives in the mountaintop ghost town of Silver City, Idaho, where he is restoring one of the original buildings for his home. He is also documenting the area for a photographic book.
For help in the preparation of this book, the editor is indebted to Wendy Snyder MacNeil, Tod Papageorge, and particularly to Minor White, who first suggested this project and supported every aspect of it from start to finish. He also expresses his thanks to Robert Frank, Lisette Model, Paul Strand, and John Szarkowski for their lively and invaluable comments on the nature of the snapshot.