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Amateur Photography

“A good snapshot keeps a moment from running away.” –Eudora Welty

At one time, only professionals and dedicated amateurs with enough knowledge of chemistry and optics could negotiate the complicated process of plates, chemical baths, focal planes, lighting, and sensitized papers required to make photographs. The amateur movement in photography is multilayered and consists of seriously skilled techno-hobbyists, artistic amateurs who instinctively compose beautiful images, and the critical mass of everyone else who is most readily identified with the “amateur” title.

American entrepreneur George Eastman (1854-1932) developed the first simple camera in 1888, making a previously cumbersome and technical process easy to use, less expensive, and more accessible to the average consumer. The Eastman Company was founded in 1889, renamed Eastman Kodak in 1892. When the Kodak #1 camera was released in 1888, it came loaded with Eastman’s rolled film of 100 exposures and cost 25 dollars. Another ten dollars paid for processing the film, making prints, and loading a new roll. Kodak offered the world’s first commercial processing service, enabling anyone to snap a photo.

J. M. (John Millington) Synge (1871-1909)

My wallet of photographs : the collected photographs of J. M. Synge. Arranged and introduced by Lilo Stephens. Dublin : Dolmen Press, 1971.

Lilo Stephens, the wife of J.M Synge’s nephew, had family access to a preserved collection of the Irish playwright’s personal belongings. In his photographs she saw a real treasure in his amateur documentation of life in the western Aran Islands between 1898 and 1902. When the young writer traveled to the area with his typewriter and his camera, those two items were considered quite modern contraptions. First published by Dolmen Press in this edition of eleven hundred copies, Synge’s photographs have received recent attention with a 2010 exhibition at the Irish Cultural Centre in Paris.

Three samples of home and recreational photographs of Cochran family members, circa 1890s-1920s.
G. Burton Pearson, Jr., papers gift of the Pearson family

Tin type: souvenir of Applegate’s Double-Deck Pier, Atlantic City, circa 1880s

Cyanotype: waiting for the flash in the family parlor in Middletown, circa 1890s

Mini portrait strip, suitable for wallet or locket, circa 1920s

Sir William de Wiveleslie Abney (1843-1920)

Instruction in photography. London : S. Low, Marston & Co., Ltd., 1900.
from the library of Geoffrey Wakeman

Eastman Kodak Optical Company

At home with the Kodak. Rochester : Eastman Kodak Optical Company, circa 1910.
William I. Homer papers, gift of William I. Homer

“Say cheese!” Copy print from an original photograph of the ebullient Honorable Miss Ethel Stourton (1876-1948), a friend of the Bringhurst family, on tour with her camera in Cimiez, a hilltop neighborhood in Nice, France, 1905.
Shipley-Bringhurst-Hargraves family papers

Ethel was a close friend of Edward Bringhurst III/V, and this photograph was likely taken by Edward, at the same time she was taking a picture of him.








The Photographic art journal. Edited by Harry Quilter and Fred C. Shardlow. Leicester : Edward Shardlow, The Chromo Press, St. Martin’s. Volume 1. March 1901 – February 1902.

Photography journals reported on competitions and shared criticism from members of amateur associations such as the Postal Pictorial Photography Club, shown here. Composition, lighting, and detail were critiqued for both of the images in this page spread.

Jonathan Williams (1929-2008)

Open wide : Polaroid photographs. [England] : Artlocate Derby, 1992.

This program was printed in an edition of 100 copies to accompany the 1992 exhibition “Open wide: Polaroid photographs by Jonathan Williams: the Derby Photography Festival.”







Family Photos

Photography journals and companies selling cameras and photography gear such as Eastman Kodak or Graflex targeted everyone in the family, especially women and children, as potential practitioners and consumers of the “most democratic” art. The “Kodak Girl” was a popular advertising campaign and the Kodak Brownie camera was released in 1900 and first introduced the concept of the snapshot—a spontaneous photograph, typically taken without artistic or journalistic intent or technique. Most early snapshots were made to document personal events, like weddings, parades, vacations, travel, parties, and aspects of family life. The “snapshot aesthetic” became a stylistic trend in photographic circles by the 1960s. Grainy, unfocused, candid photographs gained artistic value and began to be considered a form of folk art, but the bottom line is that snapshots capture ordinary lives and personal stories.

from William I. Homer papers, gift of William I. Homer:

Snap Shots. New York : Snap-Shots Publishing Co.. Volume 17, Number 7. July 1906.

Two Graflex trade catalogs, circa 1910.

Popular Photography. Boston, September 1915.

Eastman Kodak Co.
The Book of the Brownies, trade catalog for the Brownie box camera. Rochester : Eastman Kodak Co., circa 1908.




Many family archives contain albums, but few collections are as carefully documented as the 26 notebooks with photographs and genealogical records compiled by H. Truxton Boyce (1919-2007). As a repository for generations of original documentation and ephemera, these notebooks include images produced via many of the different photographic processes spanning more than one hundred years. The collection includes everything from mid-nineteenth-century tintypes to colorized portraits mounted on plywood to mid-twentieth-century Polaroids.

The Morrow and Armstrong families are Delaware lines connected to Truxton Boyce through his mother, Elizabeth ("Bess") Armstrong Morrow Boyce. Bess’s father James Morrow, who was the son of an Irish immigrant who arrived in 1835, owned a store at 211 Market St. in Wilmington; the building was later called the Morrow Building. The photographic processes and the use of cameras through “Kodak moments” in their daily lives help document the story of this American family over more than a century.

Pages from the Boyce family albums, circa 1870s–1970s
H. Truxton Boyce genealogical research and family papers
gift of Mrs. Doris Jolls Boyce and Bunny Boyce Meyer

Pages from Truxton Boyce’s notebooks include images of the nineteenth-century Market Street store; Truxton’s wartime courtship and marriage of Doris Jolls (they were “double Dels,” having met and married in Newark); Truxton and Doris’s post-war suburban life with a growing family; and home life with two teenage daughters in the 1960s.



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