The 110 prints on view in Poetics of the Everyday: Amateur Photography, 1890–1970 were taken during an extraordinary period of time, primarily the first half of the 20th century, when portable cameras became affordable and available to millions of enthusiastic new amateur photographers. The makers of the prints in the exhibition are generally anonymous; in fact, most did not consider themselves to be artists. And yet, their work demonstrates the remarkable aesthetic heights that were achieved in this democratic medium through intention, experimentation, or accident.
Poetics of the Everyday celebrates the recent gift of 150 amateur photographs from St. Louis collectors John and Teenuh Foster. Trained as a visual artist, John Foster assembled this collection of anonymous found images over the past 20 years. The selection of photographic prints in the exhibition embrace lightheartedness in everyday life, and even capture oddities revealed in often-overlooked moments. While small in scale, they are tantalizingly rich in detail and many are complex in composition, immersing the viewer in their small worlds.
This exhibition tells part of a larger story about the history of photography by revealing the restless inventiveness with which amateurs photographers began to use the camera, expanding the boundaries of creative expression in ways worthy of our attention. How they used the camera and how they saw the world around them has become a vibrant area of focus for collectors, researchers, and museums alike in the 21st century.
Poetics of the Everyday: Amateur Photography, 1890–1970 is curated by Eric Lutz, associate curator of prints, drawings, and photographs. The exhibition is on view in Galleries 234 and 235 from April 26 through August 25.
A fully illustrated, color catalogue with an introductory essay by Eric Lutz, associate curator of prints, drawings, and photographs is available for purchase in the Museum Shops.