The Vernacular Photograph an Accidental Masterpiece

The Vernacular Photograph an Accidental Masterpiece

“There are no accidental masterpieces in painting, but there are accidental masterpieces in photography” – Chuck Close

Here we go – Déjà vu all over again – into the world of vernacular photography. Like colloquial speech is to literature, vernacular photography is any type that isn’t intended as art: keepsakes, advertising, forensic, documentation for records, passport photos, etc. It was made possible by George Eastman when he invented The Kodak Camera and roll film.

The modern disparity is found in history; more specifically – there is a history.  When you bought The Kodak in the late 1880’s there was no strong artistic tradition; no best practices for the flock of newcomers.  Someone first introduce smiling for the camera. “Say Cheese” was unfamiliar.

It’s 1890, photography is suddenly accessible. There is always more film to be had, it wasn’t messy, and it was fun. There is no need to be serious, this isn’t art.

The camera can produce art with little more participation from the photographer than a button push.  The medium is generous and extremely democratic. Yet the product result of a button push can be elevated to an art often by accident.

Henri Lartigue is a great example of amateurism (he made a living as a painter) producing occasional brilliance while the majority of his large quantity of work reached art status merely through our draw to nostalgia. His work represented the vernacular of his time until they became documents of longing. His playfulness with photography brought us a new type of art.

Photographic artwork is rife with nostalgia – it seems impossible to take a serious fine art photo of something new. Our homesickness for the past lifts everything old to an artistic prospect; signs along old Route 66, peeling paint, abandoned warehouses, old general stores – even old people become fine art when recorded by a camera more frequently than those of living less than 4 years.

Mom at Museum - Hipstamatic Photo

An iPhone App called the Hipstamatic Camera gives us democratized digital nostalgia – “digital photography never looked so analog”.  Its whole purpose is to replicate faded films exposed through second or third rate optics.  The result is instant art.  I posted snapshots on Facebook and got excited comments eager to discover my magic tool.  Old meets new; our nostalgia is now digitized. Is camera art done if a digital “look” never passes for future nostalgia?

Gradually the camera became more generous; more accidental master-pieces are posted to Flickr sites. The beauty of old processes before The Kodak invention are now the sandbox of vernacular photography; Déjà vu all over again.

Below is a segment from a BBC presentation on The Genius of Photography.  It’s thought provoking in that we get a glimpsed reminder of how similar the introduction of The Kodak is to the adoption of digital imaging by the vernacular picture taker.

If you want to continue the series The Genius of Photography by the BBC go here.

Art, Craft, fine art, Innovation, Nostalgia, Photography

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