30
Aug
16

Exhibition: ‘An Anonymous Art: American Snapshots from the Peter J. Cohen Gift’ at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City

Exhibition dates: 15th April – 4th September 2016

 

Dis/membering the snapshot

To say that I dislike the term “snapshot” is an understatement. The term snap/shot implies a lack of consideration in the physical act of taking the photograph. In a snap it was shot – like a snap of the fingers or a bolt out of the blue. But if we think about the photographs in this posting … and we then think about the photographs of Henri Lartigue, or Robert Frank and his travels across 1950s America, I would argue that the only difference between Lartigue, Frank and the former “Unknown makers” is that they were embarked upon a photographic project, and, latterly, were decreed artists.

I believe, and I have always believed, that the taking of photographs is a matter of intention on the part of the photographer.

If you look at these photographs from Unknown makers was it their intention to take this photograph, did they think about what they were doing before they pressed the shutter. And the answer is unequivocally, yes they did. Their aim, their purpose, was that they had the intention to take the photograph they did, they determined of their own free will how to frame these photos and at what split second to press the shutter so as to suit their aim, their thought about what they wanted to capture in the image. This is not a “snap” shot in contemporary parlance, but a considered action and intention.

To say, as Keith F. Davis, Senior Curator, Photography does in the press release, that “Snapshots represent a collective visual unconsciousness of 20th-century American culture,” could not be farther from the truth. They may represent a form of collective subconscious, where these images hover in collective memories and dreams waiting to be visualised, but a collective visual unconsciousness? I don’t think so. Vernacular photography is about a conscious decision to take a photograph and, at its most poignant, it is about a collective movement that emerges from the subconscious of people all the way around the world – in order (a taxonomic state) to document the world around them.

The joy of the women on the bed, the man and women in the cornfield, the couple in love with the Christmas tree, the man riding the bucking horse bareback, even the close-up of child’s mouth – all of the photographs were taken with an inquiring mind, with an intention to look and see, to feel the memory of that event, that time and space – not as a snap/shot but as an expression of (everlasting) life.

“To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palms of your hand and eternity in an hour.

William Blake

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Unknown maker, American. 'Woman with drink on bed' 1950s

 

Unknown maker (American)
Woman with drink on bed
1950s
Gelatin silver print
3 1/8 x 4 inches
Gift of Peter J. Cohen

 

Unknown maker (American). 'Group at pond' c. 1910s

 

Unknown maker (American)
Group at pond
c. 1910s
Gelatin silver print
3 × 4 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri
Gift of Peter J. Cohen

 

Unknown maker (American). 'Man and woman in corn' c. 1930s

 

Unknown maker (American)
Man and woman in corn
c. 1930s
Gelatin silver print
3 × 4 1/8 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri
Gift of Peter J. Cohen

 

Unknown maker (American). 'Couple with Christmas tree' c 1940s

 

Unknown maker (American)
Couple with Christmas tree
c. 1940s
Gelatin silver print
3 × 3 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri
Gift of Peter J. Cohen

 

Unknown maker (American). 'Close-up of child's mouth' 1956

 

Unknown maker (American)
Close-up of child’s mouth
1956
Gelatin silver print
3 × 3 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri
Gift of Peter J. Cohen

 

Unknown maker (American). 'Superman with dumbbell' 1972

 

Unknown maker (American)
Superman with dumbbell
1972
Ektacolor print
3 1/8 × 3 1/8 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri
Gift of Peter J. Cohen

 

 

When photography was introduced in 1839, the making of even a single picture was difficult and painstaking. The medium was transformed in the 1880s with the introduction of easier processes and the simple Kodak camera. Amateur photography was born: images became casual and spontaneous, and they were called “snapshots.”

Amateur snapshots are highlighted in An Anonymous Art: American Snapshots from the Peter J. Cohen Gift, which opens at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City April 15. The Chicago-born Cohen, an investment manager who now lives in New York, bought his first snapshots at a flea market in 1991. Within 20 years he had amassed more than 50,000 of them, and has given away as many as 12,000 snapshots. Cohen gifted the Nelson-Atkins with 350 photos.

“This incredible exhibition of amateur snapshots depicts broadly shared aspects of everyday life,” said Julián Zugazagoitia, Menefee D. and Mary Louise Blackwell CEO and Director of the Nelson-Atkins. “It highlights the deep cultural importance of photography, a visual tradition that flourishes today in images that are made and shared in a variety of ways.”

There are snapshots of pets, baseball games, Christmas trees, amateur plays, vacation fun – and even subjects snapping themselves in mirrors, which could be considered the original selfies.

“The large themes of this exhibition have tremendous continuity,” said Keith F. Davis, Senior Curator, Photography. “Snapshots represent a collective visual unconsciousness of 20th-century American culture – a connection to basic human concerns that is both direct and mysterious.”

Each of the 238 snapshots in An Anonymous Art was hand-selected by Davis himself from an extensive survey of the Cohen collection. The exhibition suggests the medium’s profound social importance as well as its quirky and surprising nature. It features groupings of works illustrating key visual traits and cultural motifs, ranging from accidental multiple exposures to comic and play-acting images. An Anonymous Art runs through Sept 4.

Press release from The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

 

Unknown maker (American). Flying bi-plane' c. 1920s

 

Unknown maker (American)
Flying bi-plane
c. 1920s
Gelatin silver print
5 3/8 × 3 3/16 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri
Gift of Peter J. Cohen

 

Unknown maker (American). 'Whoa!' 1928

 

Unknown maker (American)
Whoa!
1928
Gelatin silver print
3 3/16 × 2 1/8 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri
Gift of Peter J. Cohen

 

Unknown maker (American) 'Dog being held by neck' c. 1940

 

Unknown maker (American)
Dog being held by neck
c. 1940
Gelatin silver print
3 1/2 × 2 1/2 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri
Gift of Peter J. Cohen

 

Unknown maker (American) 'Allen and Gladys' c. 1930s

 

Unknown maker (American)
Allen and Gladys
c. 1930s
Gelatin silver print
3 1/8 × 2 1/8 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri
Gift of Peter J. Cohen

 

Unknown maker (American) 'Boy with bat' c. 1950s

 

Unknown maker (American)
Boy with bat
c. 1950s
Gelatin silver print
3 × 3 1/16 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri
Gift of Peter J. Cohen

 

Unknown maker (American) 'Doris' 1949

 

Unknown maker (American)
Doris
1949
Gelatin silver print
3 1/8 × 2 1/8 inches
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri
Gift of Peter J. Cohen

 

 

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
4525 Oak Street
Kansas City, MO 64111

Opening hours:
Wed, 10 am – 5 pm
Thurs, Fri, 10 am – 9 pm
Sat, 10 am – 5 pm
Sun, 10 am – 5 pm

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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