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Curious Frame - Issue #38 - The Snapshot Aesthetic

Curious Frame
Curious Frame - Issue #38 - The Snapshot Aesthetic
By Leanne Staples • Issue #38 • View online
Fads are funny. They are all the rage for a period of time and then they fade. In a nutshell, that’s the definition of a fad. They don’t last.
The origin of the word fad is unknown. It possibly derives from the expression fiddle faddle. There was a fad in using the expression fiddle faddle which I recall being used when I was very young. It was perhaps already outdated then.
Fiddle faddle means trivial nonsense. So yes, it’s possible that a fad is merely trivial nonsense. This issue is about snapshots. There once was a fad about snapshots.
Maybe that fad has returned in a more legitimate form than the famous Kodak moment. Maybe not considering the constant trend for selfies and other trivial photos found on social media
It’s possible that snapshots have always been with us ever since the invention of compact cameras. But there are a few different kinds of snapshots. I would like to think that the essence of street photography is the snapshot.
But for many street photographers, it sounds like a way of lessening the value of their photos. Some would prefer to call it fine art photography. What’s in a name, a word or even a genre? Perhaps what’s more important is the actual style, the content,
Thanks for following me on this journey and remaining curious about the world of photography!

Reader's Comments:
Don’t keep those thoughts to yourself. Curious Frame is about dialogue and I’d love to hear your comments or even questions or inspirations. And it’s easy. Just hit reply in your email.
Your opinions are valued. No advanced degrees or education required.
One reader wrote about the previous issue On Beauty
The photographer seeks beauty when framing a street scene, a landscape, a plate of food or a model, and uses elements such as light, shadow and colors to enhance its beauty and even in situations where the suffering of life is present, pain, poverty, everything becomes beauty at the push of a button, there is the beauty of photography and the art of the photographer in transforming it into beauty! 
The fascination for beauty drives a huge market and I believe it only becomes competitive with the fascination for wealth!
Thank you for your very thoughtful comments about beauty in photography. Dialogue is so welcome.
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Curious Questions:
In a previous issue I requested as a method of trying out something different that you provide a response to the question below. In the coming issues I’ll be featuring the submissions so far.
I received 4 responses so far and they are all very different from each other. I will be using them in upcoming issues of the newsletter and I’m hoping that more people will respond. 
It’s fun and easy and there are no right or wrong answers and there’s only one question:
What are 3 words, possibly adjectives, that you would use to describe photography. What you think of it, what you like about it, whatever. Three words!
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The Snapshot Aesthetic
Hipshot In LES, New York City, 10 August 2021.
Hipshot In LES, New York City, 10 August 2021.
If you see something that moves you, and then snap it, you keep a moment. Linda McCartney
Snapshots are, like most street photography, spontaneous. Shooting from the hip (like the above photo) is one form of a snapshot. Shoot without thinking too much about it.
The element of chance always plays a role in street photography and this is especially true of shooting from the hip. I wrote about the role of chance in street photography in Issue 30 of the newsletter.
I should clarify that when I say shooting from the hip, I’m not talking about using a flip screen on the back of your camera. It is in a way like shooting blind.
Michael Semak, Ischia Island (off Naples, Italy), 1961.
Michael Semak, Ischia Island (off Naples, Italy), 1961.
The above photo by Michael Semak is a snapshot. He stepped off a ferry boat at Ischia near Naples and without time to set exposure or focus, “I raised my camera and pressed the shutter. The situation dissolved right after.”
This is, a snapshot photo. A technique that I’ve been working on for awhile now, is what I call lift and shoot. That is exactly what Semak did. It is spontaneous.
For some strange reason people think of snapshots as a lesser form of photography. But if you read about some of the famous photographers whose work is considered in the snapshot aesthetic, you might be surprised.
Robert Frank, Bar - Gallup, New Mexico, 1955.
Robert Frank, Bar - Gallup, New Mexico, 1955.
It is often difficult to obtain information about photos, like the hows and the whys. Fortunately, I was able to find out about the above photo by Robert Frank.
By tilting his camera and shooting from the hip, Robert Frank made this quick glimpse of cowboys at a bar. Time-Life: The Art of Photography, 1977.
How about that? Robert Frank shooting from the hip! Apparently he used this technique quite a bit. Frank is considered to be the originator of the snapshot aesthetic.
However, it should be noted that when his famous book The Americans was first published, it was often harshly criticized. One critic wrote that Frank “produced pictures that look like a kid had taken them while eating a popsicle.” (quoted in Tod Papageorge’s Core Curriculum.
Eudora Welty, Sideshow Wonders, State Fair, Jackson, Mississippi, 1939. By the way, remember Eudora the email app? It was named after a short story by Eudora Welty.
Eudora Welty, Sideshow Wonders, State Fair, Jackson, Mississippi, 1939. By the way, remember Eudora the email app? It was named after a short story by Eudora Welty.
A good snapshot stops a moment from running away. Eudora Welty
People tend to think of Eudora Welty (1909-20021) as a writer. She wrote many short stories, novels and essays and was awarded many literary prizes. But she is not as well known for her photography which ranged from documentary to snapshots and street photography.
Why her photography is less known is a mystery to me as she was equally as good at photography as she was at writing. She used some of her photos as source material for her writing.
It is possible that the reason one takes photos may have something to do with the intended outcome. If the purpose is to make money, something like snapshots and even street photography in general are not necessarily a wise choice.
Some photographers begin with the art of photography in mind and later refine their work for commercial purposes. That is to say that snapshots rarely lead to a career or big money unless you’re an established artist like Andy Warhol.
Garry Winogrand, Women are Beautiful, 1972.
Garry Winogrand, Women are Beautiful, 1972.
I hate the term, I think it’s a stupid term, street photography. I don’t think it tells you anything about the photographer or work. Garry Winogrand
Some of the prominent features in snapshot photography are blurry images, graininess, cutting off objects typically as a result of shooting from the hip and working with available light. These are counter to much more intentional forms of shooting.
Garry Winogrand was a master of snapshot photography. The above photo with its slant and cropping is a good example. I imagine that Winogrand might not have liked his photography being labeled as snapshots either.
Lisette Model, Running Legs, Forty-Second Street, New York, circa 1940-41.
Lisette Model, Running Legs, Forty-Second Street, New York, circa 1940-41.
I am a passionate lover of the snapshot because of all photographic images, it comes closest to the truth. Lisette Model
It’s very possible that in the days of only film photography and when many photographers were pursuing artistic photography sometimes parallel to making money in fashion or advertising photography, that it was somehow easier to go your own way.
People were less inclined to follow one particular style. From about the 1940s to the 1970s or so, they were a generation of photographers that were writing the rules. They were following their instincts.
Lisette Model is perhaps less famous as a photographer than as a teacher of photographers. Diane Arbus was only one of her students and had a very large impact on Arbus’ style. Model opened up photography to accept odd compositions, blur and her photos are very different than much of the documentary photography of her time.
Lee Friedlander, Spokane, Washington, 1974
Lee Friedlander, Spokane, Washington, 1974
How did Friedlander and so many other photographers of his generation and earlier, know what we would consider iconic? There are things like an American flag that was perhaps first popularized by Robert Frank that we are still influenced by.
Another aspect of snapshots are those banal images like an old car or a gasoline station sign that fill much of Friedlander’s photography. Rather than romanticizing about life, it is a different kind of beauty. Celebrate the ordinary.
Daido Moriyama
Daido Moriyama
To spend too much time wondering whether a shot is good enough or not contradicts the whole point of a snapshot. You don’t deliberate on a snapshot - that would be a contradiction in terms. Daido Moriyama
At the far edges of snapshot photography is Daido Moriyama. His high contrast, grainy, soft focus or blurry photos are his trademark. He boldly calls his photography snapshots.
I haven’t always embraced the term or the idea of snapshots. I had this idea that you’re supposed to have a plan. That you need to compose in a certain way and expose in a certain way.
Just Past Noon, New York City, April 2018. This is an example of a snapshot photo that I took while walking using the method I call lift and shoot. It is my tribute to Moriyama.
Just Past Noon, New York City, April 2018. This is an example of a snapshot photo that I took while walking using the method I call lift and shoot. It is my tribute to Moriyama.
It took me awhile to learn that photography should reflect who you are and your own personal taste. So it was very validating to find Moriyama quick to embrace the term snapshot. And also, when studying the photos and writings of others to realize that there is a diversity of ways to approach photography.
Hence, I have been mentoring many photographers for many years now to find their own style. If snapshots are your style, you shouldn’t see it as a lesser form of street photography or photography in general. Embrace the style that is what you like.
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Further Viewing:
The video has a couple abrupt places without audio. The audio returns. I find it interesting how nervous Winogrand is shooting. Maybe it’s because he’s being filmed. Nevertheless, it’s a good brief example of his style.
Garry Winogrand - Photographer
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Further Reading:
  • Papageorge, Tod. Core Curriculum: Writings by Tod Papageorge. Aperture Foundation, New York, 2011.
  • The Art of Photography, The Editors of the Time-Life Books, Virginia, 1971.
You can also find me at:
Artist, Photographer & Writer - Leanne Staples
Shop for Art, Zines & Publications - Leanne Staples
Walking Photo Tours & Street Photography Workshops in New York City
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Leanne Staples

In a world that is overpopulated with images, Curious Frame is where I share my thoughts on photography. It is always about ‘seeing with new eyes’.

I’m Leanne Staples, a photographer, artist, and writer living in New York City. Street photography and lens-based art are my passions, and Curious Frame is where I’ll be sharing my thoughts on these passions.

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