The Snapshot

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Baby haircut, 1952. Courtesy of the University of Southern California Libraries.

By the early twentieth century, the camera industry was already marketing photography as a pastime accessible to all Americans. The point-and-click camera had long been the centerpiece of Kodak’s technological platform, but it was not until the introduction of the Brownie Camera that personal photography took off.

The image quality left something to be desired, but the Brownie Camera enabled Americans to develop their own pictorial histories, regardless of their previous photography experience. Families no longer needed to hire professional photographers for formal portraits. The price of the Brownie meant they could instead buy their own cameras and take the images themselves. Everything that had previously been impossible to capture was now recordable and shareable.

This leap in technological accessibility led to a new type of photographic images, known as “snapshots.” Instead of relying on professional techniques, this new kind of amateur image photography focused on taking quick, spontaneous shots that captured everyday life. Traditional events like holidays and graduations, as well as candid family moments, were regular snapshot subjects. Kodak built branding around the everyday activities documented by the snapshot, coining the phrase “Kodak moment.” These messy, but memorable, photos altered the ways individuals understood and communicated with images and set the tone for how we perceive photographs today.