Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Vernacular Photography

In recent years, it seems that "Vernacular Photography" has become a true art form within the photographic and art communities. Classifying old, found photos as such is one thing, but then declaring them to be works of art is something else, is it not?
Wikipedia says this:

Vernacular photography refers to the creation of photographs by amateur or unknown photographers who take everyday life and common things as subjects. Examples of vernacular photographs include travel and vacation photos, family snapshots, photos of friends, class portraits, identification photographs, and photobooth images. Vernacular photographs can also be considered types of "accidental" art, in that they often are unintentionally artistic in some way.

Closely related to vernacular photography is "found photography," which in one sense refers to the recovery of a "lost," unclaimed, or discarded vernacular photograph or snapshot. Found photos can be "found" at flea markets, thrift stores, yard sales, estate sales, in dumpsters and trash cans, between the pages of books, or on sidewalks.


Taking this into account, many people I know, including myself, are vernacular photographers, or at least will be, when we die and people find our boxes of prints and negatives, or our images on Flickr. But is it really art? As we all know, art is in the eye of the beholder, and yes, there are some beautiful vernacular photos out there. But since photography is all about capturing the MOMENT, are some of these better just because they have captured long lost moments that will never exist again, or are they art because they capture our imagination and engage us in some way. I think unless someone is completely clueless with a camera, there always exists the possibility of making a great image. On one hand, I have seen a person with the latest DSLR take shots that are so lacking in aesthetics that I wondered why they even bother; and I have seen amazing works of art taken with Holgas and box cameras. So putting ability aside, if a photograph stimulates us in some way is it art? (Not that kind of stimulation!) - I suppose it is, but I think we have the "lens of nostalgia" affecting how we interpret many of the images from the past. Four examples are presented below.

Is this a work of art?

times have changed

God I hope not. It's me from 1975 camping with friends.

Is this a work of art?

Detroit, 1950s.

This one?

New Jersey, 1890s.

Or this one?

grasses Take a guess.

Some Vernacular sites you might be interested in that appeal to ME.
The Found Photo
Square America

Let me know what you think. I'd like to think that many of my photos are works of art. Others are just documentation. But someday, they'll be vernacular photography...

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