Thoughts on Snapshots

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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.

Edwardian mooners

Just like Mommy

Two variations on a theme

If it is there, they will climb it

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.



Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Museums, Vintage Photographs

12 responses to “Thoughts on Snapshots

  1. I have always loved looking at old photos. One interesting thing is that when folks took pictures in early days…the picture included their horse, goat, their car….anything they were particularly proud of. (Someone told me this…and I notice it to be pretty true.).

    I wonder what the mooners were up to in the first old picture above.???? I did not realize people were mooning that long ago. smile.


  2. Wow! These are great examples Lizzie. It’s really opened my eyes to vintage photographs. I’m definitely going to keep an open mind and look for this type of thing in future. I think vintage photographs make for a fun and interesting collection – if I were lucky enough to find anything like this.

    And that poor lady sat bottom-right in the first photograph! She looks scared to death, although the one stood behind her looks quite formidable I must say!

    Loving the Edwardian mooners . . . . . or has one of them just dropped their false teeth on the ground!!! 😉 xx


  3. Teresa

    I love vintage photos, especially for the reason you mention. There was no chance to delete or retake photos if even the slightest thing wasn’t right and I think this is what makes old photos so charming and special. 🙂


  4. Now *that* Met collection looks/sounds like a worthwhile viewing! My grandparents on my father’s side took tons of photos through the years, many on vacations, and many of scenery. Happily, they also took many photos of each other and the family. Even if I don’t know the people in the photos, it’s those that I find the most interesting.


  5. Thanks for introducing Peter Cohan. I hadn’t heard of him and his collections, but I can definitely relate to his fascination with vintage photos. I used to collect vintage dog photos. They’re all framed and until recently filled my hallway. I love the stories they tell. One is a photo of a dog and a woman standing on a lawn. Only the woman’s head is cut off at the top edge of the photo. The caption on the back reads, “Bob and Mrs. McAllister.” Obviously Bob was more important to the photographer than poor Mrs. McAllister!


  6. Pingback: Thoughts on Photographs – Vintage and Modern | The Vintage Traveler

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