The American Eye explores the subject of vernacular photography—snapshots taken by non-professionals for personal enjoyment and memory preservation rather than for critical appreciation. Often viewed as interesting but ultimately negligible bits of ephemera, snapshots often convey an intuitive aesthetic that belies their pedestrian pedigree. Some argue, however, that any qualities perceived in snapshots were purely accidental and are dependent upon the modern lens of ironic hindsight. The American Eye questions this dominant narrative of vernacular photography, providing ample visual evidence that the art spirit is an innate force that unites us as human beings. In addition the exhibition of images, all from the United States, will consider the question of a national photographic sensibility—an American Eye. In the end these photographs express the inventiveness, ingenuity, humor, and heart that define our collective experience.
Curator's Notes: Vernacular Photography: The Democratic Art
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Vernacular Photography is an umbrella term for photographs made non-professional photographers; although generally the term refers to snapshots, it can include utilitarian photographs such as identification photos or mugshots. The word vernacular is often used to denote the common language of a particular area, or to describe a regional architectural style used by non-professional architects for functional use. When used to discuss photography, it connotes images made without the pretense of fine art. Many vernacular images, however, reflect a keen sense of composition, lighting, and artistic sensibility. Over the years numerous professional photographers, such as Walker Evans, Robert Frank, and Nan Goldin, have appropriated the vernacular aesthetic, blurring the lines between fine art and popular culture.
Dr. Brian Hack, curator of The American Eye, explores his lifelong fascination with snapshot photographs and shares his thoughts on collecting the memories of others. Is vernacular photography--generally created by ordinary, often anonymous people, truly the most democratic art?