I think we were all a little hard on photographs yesterday, so I thought I’d do a post in praise of them. Not modern photos, of course; I’m going to praise the vintage snapshot.
Last week at the Metropolitan Museum of Art there were some small gallerys filled with old snapshots. I was delighted to read that they were part of the massive collection of Peter J. Cohan, a collector I’ve read about several times over the past year. Cohan began looking through and buying vintage snapshots at flea markets in 1990. He did not look for any particular thing, but instead he just wanted to buy what seemed interesting to him.
Twenty-three years and over 35,000 photos later, museums, including the Met, are starting to acquire parts of the collection. The display has the photos arranged in quirky categories: kids with cigarettes, women with guns, women boxing.
What is it that makes vintage photos so much fun? Sometimes it is the spontaneity, but all these photos were staged. Perhaps it is that, unlike today where we can snap and re-snap until we like the result, the photographer of yesteryear knew she or he really had only one or two takes to get it right, and there was no way to know if it was right until the photos were returned by the developer.
Then when the photos came, all the exposures were included, mistakes and all. Today, many people never even print their photos, and when they do, only the best are picked to become hard copies. I took over 250 photos in New York, but only had 35 of them printed. And that was after I’d deleted hundreds more.
I think that most vintage photo collectors are like me, that is they do look for specific things in the old photos they acquire. I may just follow Cohan’s example and be a little more open to the fun and the oddball.