cover image Snapshot Chronicles: Inventing the American Photo Album

Snapshot Chronicles: Inventing the American Photo Album

Barbara Levine, Stephanie Snyder, Snapshot Chronicles: Inventing the American Photo Album

Curator and photo album collector Levine feels that whenever she opens an album she is "activating a story"—the annals of a family, the tale of middle-class striving, the story of Americans developing visual literacy and gaining fluency with photography's new idiom. Levine and fellow curator Snyder have produced far more than a catalogue to a San Francisco exhibition opening in April or a coffee-table book—they have made a beautiful, quirky history of photo albums. The green, velvety cover itself has the aura of an old-time album, and the scads of reproduced photographs are a visual feast. One album the editors highlight features the young Al Capone; others showcase anonymous happy families, college students, even the occasional chicken. The images are enriched by the editors' argument that photo albums embody the same impulse as quilts and embroidered samplers: all are narratives in pictures. Largely responsible for the creation of the photo album was George Eastman, whose company, Kodak, not only hawked the Brownie camera, but also created the cultural icon of the elegant matriarch who preserved family memories through the camera and album. Unfortunately, the print is small and difficult to read, making it likely that readers will simply flip through this fascinating and informative cultural history. (Feb. 23)