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Thayer: c. 1920's Snapshot Photograph of Almon and Leona Thayer.
Found in Berkshire County, Massachusetts, MA.
The Virtual Time Machine of Vernacular Photography by Marty Weil
Vernacular photography, a dressy name for snapshots taken by amateur or unknown photographers, is one of the hottest areas of ephemera collecting and a trendy component of artistic expression. Vernacular 'everyman' photos feature scenes from ordinary life and cover a wide range of subject matter from family photos to vacation slides.
Ron Radue, a vernacular collector and antique dealer, calls these images a virtual time machine. Through common snapshots, Radue is able to transport himself to the world in which his ancestors lived in mid-century Detroit. Radue assembled his collection of mid-century Detroit vernacular image to see what the contemporaries of his parents and grandparents looked like on an average day. “I could see what kind of cars they drove; bikes they rode; toys they played with; stores they visited; and, the streets they walked down,” he says.
Vernacular photography allows him to visit places that no longer exist. Not only is vernacular photography an excellent means to learn about life in an earlier time, it is also considered to be a type of “accidental art.” Vernacular images with uncommon qualities are highly sought after by collectors and prized by artists. In recent years, modern artists such as Stephen Bull, Dick Jewell, Patrick McCoy, and others, have made extensive use of vernacular photography in their work. When collectors or artists narrow the focus of their vernacular photography collections to specific subject matter or themes, such as girls with bows in their hair, people with their back turned to the camera, or photographs in which the photographer inadvertently placed a finger over the lens, the ordinary world of common images can easily stray into bizarre and absurd territory.
Walker: 1921 Snap Shot Photo of Dorothy Chrystal Walker, NY Her initials, DCW written on front, full name on back. Found in Utica, Rome area, Oneida County NY. We find the first name Chrystal back into the 1800's, could also be a surname, maiden name.
Closely related to vernacular photography is found photography, which merely refers to lost or discarded vernacular images that have been recovered or salvaged. While a few images are salvaged from dumpsters or trash bins, the term 'found' is used loosely and can apply to images bought at flea markets, thrift stores, yard sales, etc. Los Angeles-based author, Charles Phoenix, has made a career publishing books containing 'found' Kodachrome images. Although vernacular photographs have become popular with collectors, it is still relatively easy to assemble a worthwhile and inexpensive collection. Vernacular photographs of every description are readily available, at a reasonable price, on eBay and other Internet auction sites. Specialized and highly unusual images can be found at ephemera and photography shows. Some collectors, like Radue, collect vernacular photographs that speak to personal memories of family or genealogical locations. For instance, Radue's collection of Detroit-area snapshots contains local buildings and landmarks as they existed during the city's halcyon days. Through the prism of Radue's vernacular photography time-machine, Detroit will always remain so. “The city is truly resplendent in all its mid-century glory,” he wistfully concludes.
We are proud to have Marty write for Ancestorville. Please visit his wonderful ephemera blog on antique & collectible paper and all the recent trends and topics.
— Debra Clifford, Ancestorville
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