The Changing Perception of “Snapshot” Photography

When’s the last time your printed one of your photographs? We live in an age of immediacy. It’s not unheard of to take several pictures a day and share them on Facebook within seconds of their capture. But with the speed of life, our online images are also quickly forgotten. Gone are the days of the printed snapshot.

In this video, vintage snapshot collector Robert E. Jackson talks with NPR’s Claire O’Neill about how our perceptions of snapshots have changed in recent decades:

Jackson is not a photographer himself, but he has plenty to say about photography. In 1997 he started collecting strangers’ snapshots, and since then, he’s showcased them in exhibits at the National Gallery of Art and the Pace/MacGill Gallery in New York.


What draws Jackson to old personal photos is their intimacy. In the days before social media and digital cameras, snapshots were created for a personal audience. They weren’t usually seen outside of the photographer’s home, and more often than not, they were stored away in a closet soon after being developed. These kinds of photos were created to bring back memories and not necessarily for aesthetic reasons.



In the interview, Jackson says that although people now take more daily photos than ever, he feels that image taking has gone from being about the “we” of our society to being about “me”. He suggests that we share our photos online, in essence, to brag about our own lives. Rather than saving our prints in a box, we know our photos will be seen by hundreds of friends, associates, and family members. It seems that, in reaching out to more people, our photography has actually become less personal.


Whether or not you agree with Robert E. Jackson’s theories on the changing perspectives, it’s hard to argue that snapshots are the same now as they used to be. Will photo collectors of the future have any prints to collect and weigh in on? Probably not as many as Jackson has been able to accumulate.

“One day all this stuff will be gone.”

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