Photo album page, ca. 1920. Gelatin silver print, 7 x 10 in. Creator unknown.

Snapshot Chronicles: The Rise of the American Photograph Album

Image Gallery Exhibition File

May 24 - July 11, 2005

At the turn of the 20th century, the emergence of inexpensive, portable cameras made it possible for many people to record their lives in pictures for the first time. Snapshot Chronicles begins with the premise that the sudden access of the camera into public and private domains—the home, the workplace, at special occasions—meant that men, women, and even children became the authors of individualized visual biographies. Unlike a single snapshot that focuses attention on a single moment, photo albums offered people the challenge of assembling their photographs into sequential narratives. The albums in this exhibition, drawn from the collection of Barbara Levine, reveal the creativity, whimsy, and curiosity of early amateur photographers. Album makers freely experimented with visual and material techniques, from creative cropping, shredding, silhouetting, and patterning, to the addition of witty text and the arrangement of photos into compelling narratives. Some albums are notable because the photographs are exceptional, demonstrating a technical and aesthetic sophistication for the medium. Other albums are remarkable as forms of folk art, and for the recognizable influence of the fine arts, graphic design, and early cinema. Within albums, people sought new ways of representing themselves and their experiences. The tradition of self-chronicling has evolved from personal photo albums shared among family and friends, to digital and web-based forms that allow people to instantly publish their visual stories to worldwide audiences.

Snapshot Chronicles is curated by collector and curator Barbara Levine and Stephanie Snyder, director and curator, Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery, Reed College.

A fully illustrated 200-page exhibition catalogue is being copublished by Reed College and Princeton Architectural Press. The catalogue is designed by Martin Venezky of Appetite Engineers and contains essays by Barbara Levine, Stephanie Snyder, Matthew Stadler, and Terry Toedtemeier. Publication date: Winter, 2005.