The Art of the American Snapshot to Be Presented at the Amon Carter Museum

Release date: 
January 3, 2008

FORT WORTH, Texas---The range and creativity of amateur photography in the United States are revealed in nearly 200 anonymous works in the exhibition The Art of the American Snapshot, 1888--1978: From the Collection of Robert E. Jackson, to be presented at the Amon Carter Museum February 16--April 27, 2008. Organized by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., it is the first major exhibition to examine the evolution of snapshot imagery in America. The Art of the American Snapshot explores how snapshots have had a profound impact on American life, memory, and fine art photography.

The exhibition begins with the invention of the Kodak camera in 1888 and extends through the 1970s, focusing on the changes in culture and technology that enabled and determined the look of snapshots over the years. It also considers the influence of popular imagery as well as the use of recurring poses, viewpoints, framing, camera tricks and subject matter.

“In the years since 1888, when George Eastman and others made it possible for anyone to make a photograph, billions of snapshots have been made in this country alone,” said Earl A. Powell III, director of the National Gallery of Art. “This exhibition and catalogue celebrate the remarkable creativity of American amateur photographers and provide fascinating insights into American life in the last century.”

Added John Rohrbach, senior curator of photographs at the Amon Carter Museum, “Snapshots are the foundation of our visual culture. Everyone, from celebrated artists to rank amateurs, makes them. This display offers a wonderful opportunity to enjoy amateurs’ use of the camera to play tricks on the viewer, to record their most poignant and personal concerns, and to simply have fun.”

When Eastman introduced the Kodak camera and roll film, he revolutionized the way Americans represented themselves and marked life events. The Kodak was portable, fairly inexpensive, and easy to use, allowing the user to capture abundant images of everyday life. With the advent of the digital age, the silver-based snapshot prints of the past are fast becoming historical artifacts.

Over the past decade, Robert E. Jackson has assembled one of the foremost collections of American snapshots. Purchased at flea markets, art fairs and online, these snapshots have become separated from their original context and stripped of their personal meaning, inviting us to view them in new ways.

The exhibition is organized chronologically. It charts the cultural influences and technological advances that encouraged amateurs to explore new subjects and styles, investigates the common tricks and technical gaffes in amateur snapshots, and reveals how behavior while posing for the camera changed over time.

The Art of the American Snapshot is accompanied by a catalogue of the same name, which just received the College Art Association’s Alfred H. Barr Jr. Award, given each year for an especially distinguished catalogue in the history of art published under the auspices of a museum, library or collection. The catalogue authors are National Gallery of Art curators Sarah Greenough and Diane Waggoner, with contributions from Sarah Kennel and Matthew S. Witkovsky. It is published with the assistance of The Getty Foundation. The 304-page hardcover edition is published in association with Princeton University Press, and includes more than 250 photographs.

Admission is free. This exhibition is organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Public Programs

Thursday, March 27, 6 p.m.
Are Snapshots Really Art?
Gallery Talk

John Rohrbach, senior curator of photographs, Amon Carter Museum

Why are snapshot photographs being displayed with increasing regularity in fine art museums? Does this trend reflect a lowering of museum standards or a changed definition of art? Rohrbach will address these and related issues in a walk-through of The Art of the American Snapshot, 1888--1978.