Amateur Photographer of the Year: The Art of the Snapshot
’Gorilla’. Category: Open. Photographer: Rebecca Stynes, Nurney, Co Kildare. Gorilla in Dublin Zoo, Summer 2014. ‘Showing his human likeness.’
This week we’re running a gallery of entries from our Irish Times Amateur Photographer of the Year Awards celebrating the humble, or not really humble, snapshot. The term snapshot dates back to the introduction of the Kodak Box Brownie camera in 1900. The camera revolutionised and democratised photography, making it universally popular. The Brownie was the original “disposable” camera as the first (one-dollar, cardboard) models came with the film pre-loaded and was returned to the chemist for processing. The slogan “You push the button - We do the rest” relieved the photographer of any pressure to have a command of technique. The result was the snapshot, a care-free, fun aesthetic which was the polar opposite of the stiff composed and posed images of the late 19th century. Because the viewfinder was crude snapshots were loosely composed, heads or body parts might be truncated, fingers might intrude into view, the lighting might be less than ideal, the whole thing very casual, the resulting images often awful but sometimes brilliant.
Inevitably the looseness and spontaneity of the snapshot influenced mainstream photographers, from Jacques Henri Lartigue, to Bert Hardy through the master of them all Henri-Cartier Bresson. Robert Frank’s work in his 1958 book The Americans appears deliberately offhand and casual, literally on-the-road snapshots of middle America. The influence continues today – Martin Parr’s medium-format photographs, for instance his exploration of British seaside tourists, parodies the snapshot, though with high-definition and fill-in flash to heighten the colour and the sense of the surreal.
Today’s Brownie equivalents are the smart-phone and the digital point-and-shoot camera. The former has revolutionised photography yet again, the camera is effectively free as part of the phone, and is always available. The quality in recent models has improved to the point that sales of basic “point-and-shoot” digital cameras are in steep decline. The sheer volume of images being taken today is staggering – most of them are unashamedly snapshots, many of them “selfies”. Sometimes, whether through skill, good luck or fast reflexes great images are taken on these modest formats. In this week’s gallery we’re celebrating the art of the snapshot by picking out out what we feel are some of the best “snapshots” entered in the awards so far – images which show a sense of fun, spontaneity, and a lack of artifice. Snapshotters, take a bow....