Recent Acquisition: Accidental Mystery

Unidentified Photographer, [Two unidentified girls, one eating watermelon, the other disrobing], ca. 1960 (2012.24.1)

The rich history of snapshot photography has yet to be written. But when that text is transcribed it will finally be possible to understand the complex role that snapshots once played in framing social identity and everyday life in the twentieth century, in every country, across several generations, in very ritualistic and historically specific ways. The consummate middle-class art form, snapshot photography allowed amateur photographers in those pre-Tumblr days to document and to some extent to invent their lives and accomplishments. Occasionally, however, by luck or misfortune, the pictures made by those avid backyard snapshooters exceeded the bounds of the routine occasion. Collectors John and Teenuh Foster of St. Louis, who recently donated to ICP the fantastic photograph above, seek out such photographic aberrations, which they refer to as “accidental mysteries.” The tiny picture is a small miracle of dramatic composition. One girl in a ca. 1960 Brownie uniform chomps down on a slice of watermelon while the other girl twists to escape from the dress she is wearing, exposing one bare shoulder. The joyous summertime relationship between the two adolescent girls and their surprisingly balletic poses create an image that reads like a vernacular Sally Mann. The photographer here is anonymous, however, reminding us that thrilling images such as this, though rare, could be made—or discovered—by almost anyone.

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2 Responses to Recent Acquisition: Accidental Mystery

  1. so, so stunning. there’s a fantastic community of folks on flickr who have been dilligently scanning and documenting their found snapshots for quite some time now. as someone who truly relishes in a good mystery and has wasted countless hours in thrift shops and flea markets, it often feels even more special to come across gorgeous one-of-a-kind candid snapshots than to admire well-known photographs on museum walls . i’m also reminded of how recently, vivan maier’s photographs re-ignited this question in a lot of people’s minds… (what different spaces to professional photographers hold versus “the average person”).

  2. myraincoats says:

    Really it is accidental

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