mobile photography technology, culture and community

Is the snapshot dead?

Seattle-based businessman Robert E. Jackson collects vintage snapshots like the one seen here. In an interview with NPR, Jackson says that with social media, modern digital snapshots are used to "advertise your life."

For Seattle-based businessman Robert E. Jackson, snapshots as we once knew them are gone.

In a recent interview with National Public Radio, Jackson explained his love of the old-fashioned snapshot. After collecting thousands of vintage prints over the years, Jackson has shown his collection in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and most recently the Pace/MacGill Gallery in New York City. 

"The snapshot used to be about the 'we' of America," Jackson said. "Now the snapshot is about the 'me.'"

Due to the advent of social media and the prevalence of digital photography, including the flood of images we're creating and sharing with the now ubiquitous smartphone, Jackson argues that snapshots of today tend to be more about self promotion than the preservation of a precious moment.

"This is me and my food. This is me sitting at the bar — and it all is sort of creating an identity about who I am and that's what you want to transfer to Facebook," said Jackson.

The interview is a thought-provoking look at how modern technology is reshaping the way we document our lives. 

We've migrated from an era reflected in Jackson's collection, when photography required more of an effort, from the cost of film and printing, to the deliberate process of preservation via a photo album or shoebox.

Now, it seems the ease affordability of smartphone photography and has created a culture of the overshare. Every moment that is slightly brag-worthy is posted on social media for all the world to see. 

What do you think: Has the snapshot died or has it just evolved?


Total comments: 70

When I see old snapshots, they make me smile. Why? Not because of the technical proficiency with which they were taken, but because of the glimpse into a bygone era. The stiffly posed subjects, imperfect lighting and composition don't matter. Those images were captured by average people using (sub) average equipment. Should future generations come across today's images (hopefully printed, not erased digital-only media) will they enjoy the same window into our daily lives? Only if we choose to capture life, as much as we attempt to create art. Both can endure, if preserved.


Yes, it's dead
It's snapVIDEO now!

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I've been wondering since reading this article a few days ago:

If some stranger finds my phone twenty years after I'm dead, will they treat my images with the same nostalgia, or will my descendants sue them for copyright infringement?


The battery will probably be so dead they can't turn the phone on. I have old cell phones in this state even now. Are there replacement batteries available for a Nokia 5165 ?

If your pictures are on removable media, they may take a look. If microSD hasn't moved on like Smart Media.

If your pictures are stored on not removable media because you prefer those kinds of phones, then I don't any infringement is likely. The person would have to be dedicated to retrieve images from a storage device that can't be powered.


Try Chinese companies for the batteries.


More (elitist) old timers complaining about the decay of America. Photography has not changed. It has been democratized. Even 2-year olds can take pictures now. The same people who took thoughtful shots way back when, can still take thoughtful shots now, with a million more possibilities and flexibilities. Just because you take a lot of shots doesn't mean you have to save them, or share them. It's your choice. Your call. And the opportunities for "snapshots" go far beyond the capabilities of old. If you don't like the stream of meh photos, don't look at them. Learn to filter. This is the internet age. You can live in whatever bubble you want forever and ignore the rest. Go pick out your favorite high-art snooty photography streams/blogs and stay there. Go find your internet niche. There are 7 billion people in the world, but you don't have to be friends with everyone, or pay attention to them all. The internet makes it easy.

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There should be an unlike option just for your comment :-) I sense a bit of irritancy ...did this post hit a nerve?
Are you the type of person that posts it's entire life on Facebook?
Unfortunately, we are forced to put up with this things. "Hey, this is me at the Mall" "Hey, this is me cooking" "Hey, I got a new tattoo". Because if I have a Facebook account, I get overflowed with stuff that makes me want to not have an account.
Come on, let's face it...some people need a lot of attention, so they use Facebook to get it, no matter what.
I liked this post. This is not about being elitist. It's more about facing the truth.

Ivan Lietaert

When the tone of an article is negative, Connect uses the term 'smartphone'; when the tone of an article is positive, Connect uses the term 'iPhone'. That is my observation.
As for the snapshot issue... doesn't a bunch of MEs form a WE? More than 2000 years ago, Aristotle complained about the bad rep of the younger generation. Evolution is not good or bad, it simply 'is'.

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Serenity Now

Interesting observation. Not.

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Cultural evolution
Genetic devolution
as observed...

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holger feroudj

He makes a very good point: People took photos thinking they'd stay private. Now, if you're taking a "snapshot" or another photo, you more likely have the intention to share it. Or you know the possibility to share it is much closer. Either way it's likely gonna influence how you naturally take photos. "Naturally" as in "without really thinking about it" is the keyword here.

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There has always been several categories of privacy.
Me only
Me and my partner
My family
My trusted friends via mail
At my home display
the Global facebook semi-public
{with different privacy levels}
Also: picasa, flickr, ...
and MMS, e-mail, Dropbox link, etc (vs mail)


It's not dead as long as it happens. The street photography genre has found new life with the smartphones and great, convenient compacts of today. And it's barely anything about you. Actually, I think the smartphone explosion has made photography (in general) more popular. It's become a stepping stone for people who find it fun. I haven't seen as many teenagers out on the street with DSLR's as today.

Don't stare yourself blind on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. A certain kind of photography use to find itself there, indeed often about "me". But look on the streets, and look what it's doing to actual professionals who have a harder and harder time to make a living of it. That's surely not due to McDonald's or family vacation photos either.

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I see his point. Just like books have gone obsolete because of e-readers, people share their photos on Facebook instead of making prints. People's 4”x5” phone screens are the new 4”x6”. But I don't look to Facebook for anything of substance. I still print and give photos to people. It's kind of neat to go to a friend or relatives house and still see one of my photos still hanging there after several years. You see a photo pop up on your social networking feed at noon and by six o’clock it's not even a memory any more.


Funny - I was just at B&N the other day and must have stumbled upon an ancient temple? With moving people, coffee and.. sigh.. books!

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what are books?
I know Facebook...???
Maybe it's photoframes...kind of like the Facebook, but without text.


Tag the ME pictures.
Tag the WE pictures.

If there are the same number of WE photos being taken but they have been clouded by 4x ME photos, it might be hard to find the WE.

If people complain they aren't able to find the WE photos in all this and if you care whether they can find them or not, help them by tagging.

If you don't care, be a little more tolerant and let the fellow complain. Doesn't hurt anything... does it?

In other words, don't worry about it; by complaining so vehemently yourself... sounds like you have a lawn to tend as well :^)

Comment edited 15 minutes after posting

Robert E Jackson has a pessimistic view and nothing has changed or evolved. Maybe he is just too lazy to go through the "me" photos to get to the "we" photos.

I would be willing to bet that there are just as many "we" snapshots being taken today as any other time in human history. The only problem with seeing them is that there is now another layer added, with the advent of digital and the availablity of relatively good cameras to the masses, of the "me" photos.

In 1990 there were 500,000 "we" photos a day being taken.
Today there 10,000,000 photos a day being taken, 8,000,000 whcih are "me", 2,000,000 which are "we". ...sounds like Mr Jackson has a problem with todays culture and is frustrated with going through the me's to get to the we's.

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M Jesper

In the old days when you took a photograph you were doing photography by definition, these days it's just a tool most of the time, nothing wrong with that ... photography is still out there too, it just separated.


Cranky old photographer wants the kids off his lawn. News at 11.


11 is past his bed time. News at 6; no sooner because he needs time to get home from the early bird dinner special (5pm).

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Snapshots are just that. Photography requires more work, more skill and often some luck. Everyone can take snapshots. It's the quirky ones that make for great viewing and I think those are what he likes... me too! Long live the snapshot.

Jimmy G

If "snapshots = printed images" to Mr. Jackson, then, yes, I'll agree that most folks are no longer printing their "home" pictures. However, that "snapshots = moments from one's life" it's quite clear that snapshots haven't gone anywhere. The problem with Mr. Jackson's perception is that he is not seeing all the printed images made today being kept in personal albums and shoeboxes, those will be discovered by future collectors long after their owners have passed on and are forgotten. And, as for those that do, digitally, find their way onto FB, and such, Mr. Jackson needs to offer himself a better way to filter out all the selfies and learn to, um, see the trees for the forest. ;) Instant gratification and self-promotion are merely different contexts for images, but they're snapshots, nonetheless.

My musings for the day, :)
Jimmy G


The point for me is that now we say with thousands of junk snapshots what before we used to say only with one universal shot.
Since snapshot art is also ability to synthesize, now the art is very far from us.

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And get off of my lawn you dern kids!

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Slow day so you went with this, eh?

So, are there going to be "articles" about snapshots based on the views of some random obsessed guy in Reykjavik or maybe Kampala next?


same same but different


A snapshot is a snapshot no matter what media is used to capture the event. but Hey! I guess this bloke has to push up the prices of his collection of er snapshots somehow.
Seattle based businessman Robert E Jackson thats what he is.

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What defines the snapshot that used to be? To me, a snapshot is an every day capture of a person's life. The internet is absolutely full of them.

The photographs shown in the video above look like many of them have had much more pre-thought than a simply snapshot. Or perhaps it's down to the snapshotter of days gone by were more inherently creative than the snapshotter of today who captures an image of their bagel and latte.

Maybe he has a point.

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Franka T.L.

No Snapshoot is not dead, it just evolve, or rather, the term had been misused then and misused now ... both. There is no such thing as Snapshoot in his stated current modern fashion, and also not in his definition of traditional sense.

What both are are more like casual documentary, then for what's around and going on, and now more about what's around me and about it.

There is the more niche, less explored real snapshoot gene where photographer literally just grab and shoot what's happening without interfering or interacting with the element or environment. That is true snapshoot and they are far from dead

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The photo on top used a really powerful flash for that... ahh... err... ummm.... shn... sna... snapshot.

Wonder how snappy they had to put up that snappy light to make that snappy snapshot...

(by calculations, the light was off camera, about 8 feet high to the left of the snapper...)


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Just guessing that it may be possible the fellow was walking around with a tethered flash. Those used curly cords and looked like ice cream scooper for the gods.

The fellow taking the picture was squatting down a bit. He could have held the flash with out stretched arm just out of sight from the lens.

I have adopted a similar posture myself with handheld off-camera flash either tethered or optically slaved.

Who knows. I think the flash was close. I think she jumped in her seat and scolded him for scaring her.

Scratch that. I think the camera was a twin lens and he was looking down through the viewfinder with camera about waist height. Not squatting down. Still holding the flash on curly cord up.

Still, who knows... It could have been some rigged up studio shot with ladders and umbrellas.

Comment edited 3 minutes after posting

Used to be, a roll of film, processing and prints was a significant expense. Kodak went from 20 exposure rolls to 24 to get people to take a few more pictures.

Make something free, in unlimited quantity and see what happens.

Franka T.L.

From someone who actually come from the age of film and print myself ( both wet and digital darkroom ); there is one big difference the author missed. We print then because its the only way we can actually view the photo ( unless you shoot slide which is probably less suited for snapshoot ). I do agree the coming of the digital age made significanr changes to the craft, but I disagree that the craft and gene is dead. There were the case when a record of events is limited by that 36 frame ( or even less ) and thus we can only record what we consider the one that's worth it. Now its open for us to record in more genuine details ( and the ugly truth ) of it all. That to me is actually an improvement. Many old timer tend to keep thinking " its not like the old day anymore " and yes it is, but it is for better or worse, a 2 sided argument that's simply going both way


in this context "dead" means "i can't make money selling them".


A snapshot is a snapshot regardless of the medium. As noted the snapshot is an informal photograph in which the subject is more important than the composition or the lighting or the myriad other things we futz over in photography.

Most snapshots aren't printed anymore, but any of them could be, if so desired.

Given the transient nature of magnetic and digital media it is a shame that so much photography goes unprinted, because some new Vivian Maier could be found in a box of CDs or hard drives, or floppy disks someday, but there won't be any of the machines needed to view them and so a genius might thereby be lost to posterity


Last one in the country club slams the door the hardest.

1 upvote

While there's no doubt that social interchange over the past 50 years has been moving ever more strongly in the direction of personal narcissism, I think the author confuses the public and private persona of photography. What we publish to the web is not necessarily what we value most. What we choose to reveal or tout is not necessarily what we truly treasure.

But at least in one regard the snapshot is dead for as far as I can tell very few people actually print photographs anymore. My guess is that anyone wishing to collect the personal images of strangers 50 years in the future will be scouring yard sales for working digital photo frames.

Joe Talks Photo Gear

Today's snapshot may or may not be like yesterday's. Dismissing today's is kind of ludicrous. Being a collector, if you can get enough people to believe what you are selling, the value of your collection may go up. Sorry, but, only down the road some years will the real story of the impact of today's digital files be better told, and decided.

Rick Knepper

The snapshot may or may not be dead, but the term will certainly live on at DPR as the sword wielded by the pretentious when insulting another's work.


It's unfortunate that he emphasized his belief that current photos do not have the same purpose or intent that photos of the past once had. I don't think that the motivation behind making a 'snapshot' has changed. As human beings our behavior certainly hasn't changed (we still love, hate, lust, envy, and desire in the same way.)

But what has changed is the process by which we make 'snapshots.' Images are produced electronically and aren't printed out on paper. We aren't making photographs in the original sense. We are making electronic images that are ephemeral. And that's a more important issue. These electronic images are not tangible objects to hold in the hand; they can only be viewed momentarily with an electronic device and then they disappear into darkness. Our history will be stored on electronic media that may not be accessible in the future or as in the case of individuals, they can potentially become lost in the abyss of some inoperable electronic device.

Morris Sullivan

Think of the millions of snapshots of the past that have been destroyed. Most people only have maybe a few dozen old photos of their parents at best.

Now today I have taken more photos of my children than my parents did of me by an enormous factor. And yet I've probably printed about the same number as they did. So even if all electronic photos disappeared it would still be about even.

With the new generation being much more digital savvy than the older ones, I don't predict losing access to old files much either. Jpeg format isn't disappearing any time soon so as long as we keep dumping them on new hard drives or devices we'll be fine.

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Babel, the difference between the great and the also ran.

Just another Canon shooter

" when photography required more of an effort, from the cost of film and printing, to the deliberate process of preservation via a photo album or shoebox."

I am not sure if that is a good thing or no, but for us, the enthusiasts, photography is still a lot of effort. BTW, I do not have a Facebook account.

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It sounds to me like he is trying to create an aura of scarcity around his collection and ramp up demand.


You mean a "pump and dump" LOL

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No printed photo, No photograph.


Yes, it's still photograph--to draw with light--whatever the medium.


Unfortunately for your display an imprinted photo is seductive.


Odd that he would make these pronouncements AFTER publication and a gallery exhibit.


Hmm, this is a dump and pump. Maybe he is planning for another dump.

Posting a pre-dump pump to prevent significant sales slump.

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Boris Chocolate

In my opinion a snapshot is a photo taken with little or no regard of the quality or any pre evaluation with regards to composition of the image. With today's photography devices we can instantly delete what we consider 'failures' and retake a 'better' alternative often losing the unintentional charm and beauty of the original. Non digitally printed prints or slides has a value because you could not go back in time and retake a 'better' shot so you were happy with what you had in your hand faults and all.


Just an old guy bah humbugging the younger generation. His collection is OK, but there are thousands of photos just as good and many MUCH better being uploaded every day. Basing the state of photography on Facebook is ridiculous. The goal of 99.9% of people on Facebook is not a good photo. The goal is to let people know what you're up to. It's SUPPOSED to be "me" photos. On more photography oriented sites like Flickr, most photostreams are not selfies or pictures of lunch.

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To me a snapshot is different than the typical phone (self)portrait of today.

What I see on instagram or facebook, I would call "garbage" and not a "snapshot".

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This is the Golden Age of snapshots.
Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr and the easy "publishing" available through them make your(our) daily visions available all over the world 24/7.


I still shoot some film, especially for personal use; indeed, my last SLR purchase was just that, an SLR, non-D. Neither of my two current mobile communication devices have been used to record images, though capable of doing so. If I shoot a "selfie," it is usually an unintended reflection from a window, or not getting my clumsy feet out of the way of an ultra-wide-angle lens. I have shared very few images on-line, and have no faeces book account. Perhaps I am dead?


I would argue the snapshot is alive and well. The fact that it is a cellphone is immaterial. In fact I would say a lot more folks are getting better photos than the old 110 and pocket film cameras ever could. Now the content is quite a bit more diverse as with film each frame was thought of in terms of cost to develop and print while digital costs nothing. So we get a lot more "selfies" and pictures of weird stuff that folks in the pre-digital days would probably never have taken.

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Snap shots aren't dead. I shot a bunch yesterday of my kids and girlfriend at the pool. I can sell Mr. jackson a few for his gallery.

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This is a bunch of nonsense.


Yes, and only one man's point of view!

unknown member
By (unknown member) (Aug 13, 2013)

There is a bit of circular logic in his conclusions that he doesn't really consider. Yes, there is an entirely new genre of photograph that is done for the sake of social media or for other online sharing sites. Maybe instead of classifying these as snapshots they should be called sharing-shots or something. If you go to social media looking to look for images chances are you'll find a majority of them are based on the ideas that the site itself are based on. In the case of Facebook, since you have a profile that is all about what you are doing or want to say, then you'll see mostly things about....oneself. The existence of a new genre doesn't preclude the continuing existence of another. Some of the snapshot mindset may have been consumed by self-promotion, but I'd wager snapshots have also exploded in popularity as well, but they are still stored solely on one's home computer or cell phone.
The simple fact is that social media sites are much more prevalent and easy to find.

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Could call it easy share.


I am going to say he has slightly missed the point... In fact to go out on a limb, most people discussing this seem to have missed it.

Traditionally photography was about documenting the now, but the very nature of the medium meant the sharing was delayed and volume was restricted by cost. Polaroid changed this to some degree but costs and transmission still played a limiting role in the sharing and created a delay.

Digital photography started to break this down, however cellphones have broken all the previous barriers to sharing and volume. We can share everything now, and do it immediately, we get feedback just as fast and right to the palm of our hand.

What this has done to photography, and this is the most important part, it has changed it from a view of the past (a week ago, a month ago, 50 years ago) to the vast majority of images being about today, now, this second... What have we lost? The nostalgia connected to the majority of our images, and a connection to the past.


Interesting points. However, it focuses too much on the immediacy and not enough on the volume. The immediacy brings about a change in how we view photos and sure, some might be nostalgic for photos viewed later rather than now. But what we've lost is the significance associated with snapshots that took more time and effort and cost to share. I'm sure you can get on any sharing site and find plenty of "good" snapshots and make a case that there are more good snapshots being produced today than in the past. The trouble is separating the wheat from the chaff. Gone are the days when someone would show you a picture and you could assume it meant something. If you're a parent, you'll remember the days of your child incessantly chattering "mom/dad, look at me/watch me". Now we have tweens, teens and grown ups all saying "look at me" a dozen times a day. It's not "view of the past" versus "view of now" - it's "view of something worth a snapshot" versus "too much information".

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Morris Sullivan

I don't agree with the statements made by Jackson. All over the world people are taking the exact same snapshots today that they used to with film.
The difference is that they are now ALSO taking shots of what they eat to post online.
If you look at a typical smartphone gallery today you'll see the same random snapshots you'd find in an old shoe box, and if you look in an old shoe box, you'll find lots of pictures that aren't near as interesting as the examples shown above.

PC Wheeler

I think the "snapshot" is becoming the province of cell phone cameras. My wife uses hers that way a lot, and only uses a "real camera" (aka dedicated camera) when we're traveling. She also often shoots and then immediately shares the image via email or text message.

I'm older and more of the old school. I most always have a camera and seldom shoot with my iPhone.


It is just a matter of (short) time until the smartphone producers will come up with a very simple add-on to a smartphone, in form of folding side handles, that will make handling the camera part of the smartphone much more easier and ergonomical. Once that is out (the handles would not add to the size or volume of the phone), people will use the phones a lot more also to take pictures/videos, as it would presumably be very easy to shoot, even one-handed. That will then also be a further incentive for the builders to invest in quality camera parts for the smartphone.


He could not be more mistaken. Has he ever looked at the galleries on Instagram?

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babalu, I think some medium format cameras have/had handles like the type you describe.

Not sure how handles will ever not add to volume or weight. Any time handles are not there, the device could be smaller.

Interesting to see if some of the devices with larger screens will be masked.

Is it really necessary to use all a large screen to frame your image? Perhaps part of the screen could be ignored by the... app. Touching the screen in the ignored/masked areas would create no input to the camera app.

The sides could be marked by the appl.. client, perhaps, to look like little thumb grips or whatever. All the phone needs is a place for thumbs, really. There. Handles w/ no added space :^)


Its just an example of Social Evolution. Not better or worse, just different. These differences are what defines a generation, an era, a time period, and gives it traction in historical terms.

Total comments: 70
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