There’s just something about a snapshot from yesteryear, with its ubiquitous white border, its black and white tone (and sometimes color) in sizes rather on the small size. Many of these photographs were 3×4″ or smaller.
Below is a gallery of photos selected from a case full of pictures purchased at a flea market that included snapshots, albums, tintypes, cabinet cards, negatives and even color 4×6″ borderless glossy prints. The 4×6″ prints are the latest of the bunch, the size film processors went to after color film became more popular in the 1980s and 1990s.
And it’s too much–4×6″ prints are just too big, they no longer feel like snapshots, but rather like photo prints that are missing their frame. Without a border, they feel unfinished.
Plus, they are too big to carry around.
I collect old snapshots from 1880-1970, and by the 1970s there were some color prints that came with borders but once borderless prints came out, snapshots lost their charm, for me.
To view these photographs, each one easily held in the palm of your hand, we can imagine the people who kept them in albums and wallets, ready to show them to their friends when they ventured out for dinner or drinks, bowling or billiards. They were small works of art, and still are.
Vernacular photography is, as stated by the online dictionary at Definitions.net: “The creation of photographs that take everyday life and common things as subjects. Examples of vernacular photographs include travel and vacation photos, family snapshots, photos of friends, class portraits, identification photographs, and photo-booth images. Vernacular photographs are types of accidental art, in that they often are unintentionally artistic.”
Snapshots I see today rarely resonate with me. Maybe there are too many of them, or perhaps it takes the element of time to make them valuable and appreciated. Many of the snapshots in my collection are 100 years old or more.
Somehow the digital jpeg on Facebook or sent to my phone just doesn’t feel special like these photographs.
But the truly magical thing for me is the light that created these photograph. The light that was falling on these people burned an image on a silver-based, light-sensitive film to make this negative. That light that was captured and stays on this negative is my proof–this film was in the photographer’s hands, this photo was made with light that was there at that time when the photograph was made.
This snapshot is perhaps a one-of-a-kind, the only print that exists from that photographic session. And it exists forever if it doesn’t get tossed, lost, or destroyed in a fire or flood. It’s made it so far.
As a result of these prints, these people never die. They go on living in stories like this one, as we look back to them, peering through the tunnel of time to see where they went, what they did. What a wonderful gift the snapshot is.
What a treat to make a something “unintentionally artistic”.