The strangers in this project just happened to be present the moment my camera shutter was released. I discovered them when revisiting my photograph albums from the late 1980s and early 1990s. For the first time, not only did I find images of friends, family and places from my past, but I found other people too – unfamiliar people caught in the very edges of the frame. These strangers were subjects of ‘accidental photography’.
According the Oxford English Dictionary a snapshot is defined as “an informal photograph taken quickly, typically with a small handheld camera”, and because of its instantaneous nature there is often controversy as to the use of snapshots in art. Snapshots may often be produced without the careful thought to framing and composition that is usually applied to art photography, yet increasingly they are seen in galleries and collections, and often form a style of choice for many contemporary photographers.
This shift is most often attributed to Stephen Shore who began exhibition snapshot style prints in the 1970s. One project by Shore involved using a cheap plastic camera styled in the shape of Mickey Mouse, called a Mick-a-Matic. This early project of Shore’s involved using snapshots and grouping them together to make “conceptually based sequences” (Shore, 2011, pdonline.com) and he became known as a pioneer in the use of the colour snapshot to convey meaning and as a form of art.
“The list of Stephen Shore’s accomplishments is impressive: his pioneering use of colour, rehabilitation of the snapshot and breakthroughs in the photobook format, to name a few. But the most significant may be his bridging the gap between photography and contemporary art,” (Garrett in Golden, 2010, www.bjp-online.com). The snapshot style has since been adopted by many photographers and its appeal remains strong as it is achievable with little equipment or expenditure and is not complicated to produce. In addition to the technical and practical appeal of using snapshot cameras, there is the appeal of the prints themselves.
It is in snapshots, too, that we are most likely to discover our accidental visitor. “…André Kertész, Henri Cartier-Bresson, or Martin Munkácsi were deeply inspired by the freer, looser style they saw in snapshots. They, as well as later artists such as Lisette Model, Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, or Garry Winogrand, freely exploited …“mistakes,” including blurry or abruptly cropped forms, tilted horizons, and their own shadows within the photographs. Keen to catch life on the fly, they also embraced instantaneous photography. Some were known to shoot their cameras blindly, without even looking through the viewfinders to construct their compositions.” This approach was reflective of modernity both in lifestyle and in technology as cameras were smaller and much more easily manageable than those from earlier periods. The snapshot had quickly become a common format in fine art photography. (Greenough, 2007, available at http://www.nga.gov/press/exh/259/259_intro.pdf)
The attraction of the snapshot is its containment of a believable moment of real life, as the images are most often unprepared and unposed, and feature in domestic, family or ordinary settings. The snapshot possesses “… a sense memory into a scene someone actually lived.” (Wallach, A. 2008, p54).
This project consists of over 60 images from the late 1980s and early 1990s. It was exhibited in Carlisle and Liverpool in 2013.
A selection of images from the project:
Garrett, C. in Golden, R. (2010) A Shore thing available at : http://www.bjp-online.com/british-journal-of-photography/interview/1869652/shore (Accessed 04 April 2013)
Greenough, S. 2007, Introduction: The Art of the American Snapshot, 1888 – 1978: From the Collection of Robert E. Jackson © 2007 Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington
Shore, S. (2011) Heroes & Mentors: Stephen Shore and Gregory Crewdson available at: http://www.pdnonline.com/features/Heroes-and-Mentors-St-3200.shtml (Accessed 4 April 2013)
Wallach, A. Jane Hammond’s recombinant DNA p54 aperture magazine available at http://www.janehammondartist.com/articles/aperture.pdf (accessed 31 March 2013)