A few excerpts that struck me from two separate reviews that touch on photography and the vernacular:
Project Spaces at Location One and White Columns
Follow us, dear reader, into the secret annexes
By Martha Schwendener
Wednesday, July 9th 2008
[...] In the project room over at White Columns, Oliver Wasow works more like an archaeologist, sifting through annals of recent photography. Just as archaeologists favor ancient garbage dumps for the mother lode of information they provide about a past culture, Wasow's "Expansible Catalogue" also focuses on junk--or at least the kind of photography that doesn't make it into art-history books.
Wasow's photos, displayed in a hodgepodge of sizes and frames, are hybrids of pictures he took and joined digitally with images cribbed from unidentified sources. Certain themes repeat: the digits of historically significant years ("1945" looming tall over a heap of rubble); an abandoned wagon wheel surrounded by tufts of prairie grass; a retro-futuristic landscape with domes protruding from the ground.
Some of Wasow's interventions are so subtle that it's hard at first to tell what he's done, though others contain more obvious fantastical elements (like a landscape lodged in a living room). But what's funny is how we often know, intuitively—or, more precisely, through repeated exposure to pictures in books or media sources—what many of these images are supposed to "mean." The isolated wagon wheel signifies the sacrifice and hardship of our western-bound forebears; the huge year dates and the domes, some kind of post-apocalyptic future.
What's also interesting about Wasow's project, though, is what it tells us about how we read photography. Art photography was and is about staking out a signature style, while vernacular photography is interesting for almost the opposite reason: Certain weird tropes get codified and repeated over and over. Only, in Wasow's work, the familiar and the strange mix together to create a new, expanded (expansible!) vocabulary of images.
Wasow borrows the title of his project from Wallace Nutting, an early-20th-century photographer who sold his photographs in department stores. He's also borrowed Nutting's distribution system: Images here are sold, in signed, unlimited editions, for only $10 to $100. Now, virtually all of us can be collectors. If only we all had those backyard sheds to house our private museums.
via Artnet Mag:
ANONYMOUS IS A PHOTOGRAPHER
by Robert Moeller
[...] By 1900, George Eastman finally had the camera he wanted. For 20 years or so, Eastman had layered improvement over improvisation, purchased competing patents, and produced camera after camera. With the introduction of the "Brownie," which could be sold for only $1, a corner had been turned. This magical box, with its image-making power, allowed almost anyone to become a photographer -- and many did.
The Brownie remained in production, in various versions, until 1970, and was responsible for producing millions upon millions of snapshots. Amateur photographers turned the camera on their immediate surroundings, and their pictures remain provincial and mundane, of interest largely to their own circle of family and friends. The resulting works orbit around tradition, the home and family, and are often as deliberate as they are naïve.
Interestingly, though technology has changed, our ways of recording the personal haven't. Though the analog snapshot may have been rendered obsolete by the digital age, one needs only to peruse a photo-sharing website like Flickr.com to understand that our collective finger remains on the shutter. Not only do we all take pictures, but we all take pictures of the same things.
In this vast sea of images, some stand out. A tension, a chafing between innocence and intent, can produce surprising results.
[...] As Sarah Greenough writes, optimistically, about the snapshot in her vibrant introduction: "Liberated from the constraints of the marketplace, they are curious mixtures of originality and conventionality that often present highly inventive pictorial solutions -- whether by accident or intent -- while simultaneously preserving inherited subjects and poses."
[...] As Marvin Heiferman notes, "Snapshots may appear to be naïve, but they are seldom innocent." In Now Is Then: Snapshots from the Maresca Collection, in which Heiferman's essay appears, the tone struck is earthier than The American Snapshot, perhaps reflecting the tastes of the collector, Frank Maresca. Himself a photographer, Maresca brings a wider lens to bear: the inclusion of people of color, a knowing sexuality, hints of violence and disarray.
Even the photographs themselves seem rough and weathered, mementos pawed over and gazed upon. In one photograph from the 1960s, a boy dressed in a suit poses in front of a television set. The photograph is so lined and creased that its texture adds a swirling, painterly intensity to the picture. Maresca's collection has an urbane grittiness that is missing from The Art of the American Snapshot, which seems more pastoral and quiet by comparison.
As Maresca says in an interview included in the book, "These pictures would have something ‘off’ about them." And that something resonates with a tabloid fury that these anonymous photographers must have known as well.