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John Foster on

collecting the vernacular J  

ohn Foster is a photographer and celebrated collector of outsider art and vernacular photography. For over 30 years, Foster has made his living as a fine artist (painter), photographer, art educator, and graphic designer. During that time, he and his wife Teenuh built an astounding collection of self-taught and outsider art, a collection that was started in the mid-eighties. While Foster and his wife continue to collect outsider art, it is John’s decade long obsession with vernacular photography that has been receiving recent attention. According to Foster, his collection of anonymous snapshots consists today of nearly 2,500 “extraordinary” images, a collection he believes is rather small compared to many other collectors. “It’s quite easy to amass a huge collection of snapshots. I am extremely picky about the anonymous images I select. For me, it’s all about the quality of the image. I do not care so much about the time period, developing technique or even subject matter as long as the image challenges my eye and imagination.”

Foster has been an invited speaker at numerous museums and institutions, including the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA, the Metro Show, and the American Folk Art Museum in New York. Two years ago, the International Center of Photography (ICP) acquired an anonymous image from Foster for their permanent collection. The Foster collection of vernacular photography is called Accidental Mysteries, and a small portion of it has toured ten museums and cultural institutions across the country. In 2005, Arts and Antiques magazine named John and his wife into their prestigious list of “Top 100 Collectors in the United States.” Not only has his photography collection been widely exhibited, but has been written about or shown in Harper’s Magazine, The Village Voice, SF Gate, Phaidon Online, and other prominent magazines and newspapers. A weekly contributor for the website Design Observer, Foster also maintains the popular blog, v, which enjoys a cult-like following among artists, collectors, and designers. Don’t Take Pictures spoke with him about his collection.

Anonymous Snapshot 1942



Don't Take Pictures Issue 3  

Don’t Take Pictures is a biannual print, online & tablet-ready magazine that celebrates the creativity involved with the making of photograp...

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