Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Vernacular Photography

The problem with vernacular photography is that most photos are only interesting for about a quarter second. There's also a tendency to admit photos to the display that should have been passed: If this picture of a plump woman in a mini skirt standing on a doghouse is interesting, why not include the one taken seconds later, slightly out of focus but with a better expression?
I have salvaged many boxes of curling black and white snapshots, laying them across a table and adding and deleting in artistic intoxication. The next day I find myself shoving them back in a box, tired of the sameness. Most people don't photograph well, most settings are poorly considered, most shots are flawed and most novelty wears off quickly.

Culling discarded vernacular snapshots is often an illusory form of artistic discovery. The reason I know this is because over the years, aside from a few shots of historical interest, I have only found one bona fide amazing photo. It's framed and on display in my house, and I never tire of it. I share it with you here.

If you want to see what the vernacular archivists are doing, here are a few links. Square America offers pics grouped into galleries by subject. The bizarre 60's sex romp in "The Party" works as a historical document and a delicious Peeping Tom opportunity. "The Book of Sleep" reveals how frequently a sleeping person in an unusual place looks dead.

The Big Happy Fun House has a pleasing layout and features a portrait each day and a one-word caption. My suggestion is to be a bit stricter about what goes in, because the good shots are very good and the weak stuff detracts.

Top: My personal all-time best vernacular photo find. Middle: A sleeper from Square America. Bottom: "Happiness" from Big Happy Fun House. Click to enlarge.