es here and there in the house, but today, my wife and I have to take something down if we are going to hang something new. It was at flea markets that I first started looking at snapshots. They were considered practically worthless in those days. In terms of my artistic and collecting maturity I was not ready yet (in the 1970s and ’80s) to collect vernacular photographs in earnest. I did have a small collection of snapshots but didn’t give them much thought. It wasn’t until about 2004, at the advent of digital photography, that I began collecting them with a clearer vision of what I was looking for. I sensed that these snapshots were important in the broader context of photography, so I collected with more focus. I don’t collect any particular genre, but I do like images that challenge my eye. I always seek the best image I can find, whether it be a portrait, landscape or whatever. Because you collect vernacular photography, often by unknown artists, how important is record keeping? Well, I don’t have a database of every snapshot I have bought, but I keep receipts of the larger (more expensive) things I purchase. At an earlier point in my life, when I began to earn a bit more discretionary income, I would often write or call a dealer to ask if I could buy a piece by paying it off over time. For those purchases, I have better records, and indeed, some of those dealers have become good friends of mine. Most gallery owners, but certainly not all, appreciate the effort young collectors make an effort to collect, especially those like my wife and me, who would put off buying a new sofa to buy art.
around the country, including the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Intuit Gallery in Chicago and many group shows at other museums dealing with a particular theme. I’m always happy to loan a piece, and I only ask that the piece be insured door to door, and that it’s crated and packed properly when it’s returned. My snapshot exhibition is called Accidental Mysteries, which consists of about 100 vintage images, has traveled all over the country. This fall it will be at San Jose State University, and it was given a major exhibition at the Peabody Essex Museum a few years ago. It’s been exhibited at Intuit in Chicago, at the University of Memphis Art Museum, the DeVos Art Museum at Northern Michigan University, Hanes Gallery at Wake Forest University, the Gregg Museum of Art and Design at N.C. State University, and many others. There is a modest exhibition fee, but otherwise, the only costs are shipping and insurance. It’s a very affordable exhibit to book, and always popular, because we have all used a camera. Nowadays, people see paper snapshots of the 20th century as odd artifacts—which indeed they are.
lic and private. Some offer (without first being asked) to donate works to public collections. As a collector, do you feel the act of unsolicited donations devalues the work? Most good institutions won’t accept a donation unless you are a very big name. Sally Mann, for example, would have no problem donating to almost any institution, but then again, she doesn’t need to. But if you are an emerging artist, unsolicited donations will probably be met with rejection, and that doesn’t help you. Now, of course, if you have a curator speak to you personally and say, “I really admire your work,” perhaps then you could approach that curator at a later date with a gentle note that suggests the possibility of a donation. Otherwise, be cautious. It would probably be best to just keep working hard, use social media, exhibitions and meaningful art contacts to promote your work.
What are your thoughts on galleries providing a collector’s information to an artist?
Do you loan out your collection, and if so, can you describe that process?
I think it’s OK to let the artist know the name of the person who bought a piece from them. But personal emails, addresses and phone numbers I would certainly not give out without permission from the buyer. All of this is discretionary information that should remain in the hands of the art dealer or museum professional. And of course, the artist needs to respect the gallery relationship to the buyer and not approach the buyer directly.
I have loaned pieces from our outsider art collection many times for exhibitions
Many artists strive to have their work in important collections, both pub-
Anonymous Snapshot 1938
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