More Than a Snapshot: A Visual History of Photo Wallets - Interview with Annebella Pollen

It's hard to believe that there was a time when digital photography didn't dominate the industry and every town and city had a photo lab where you would get your films processed. In the last thirty years this industry has shifted and changed dramatically and the way we produce and consume photography is almost unrecognizable compared to the pre-digital days. In this new book titled More Than a Snapshot, Professor of Visual and Material Culture Annebella Pollen takes a deeper look into her personal collection of photo wallets, those paper folded slips that held your precious printed photos when you picked them up from the lab.

Through documenting this vast archive of analogue ephemera spanning from 1900s right up until the 1990s Annebella shines a light on the changing technologies within the photography industry and highlights the cultural shifts and graphic design trends through the humble photo wallet. We talked to Annebella about the making of this new book and her ongoing interest in ephemera and bric-a-brac.

Images from More Than A Snapshot

Hello Annebella, please tell us about yourself.

Hello! I’m an author and an academic interested in visual and material culture, by which I mean the lives and afterlives of images and objects. Often this means old photographs but I am also interested in other history of art and design things, especially when they relate to popular culture and counterculture. I’ve written a few books on quite an eclectic range of things, from fashion history and nudism to snapshot photographs and the political uses of art.

Images from More Than A Snapshot

What got you interested in photo wallets?

I am a big second hand shopper. I love rummaging in junk shops, flea markets and car boot sales. I buy quite a few bits and bobs that interest me and that relate to photography somehow. This can include family albums, old advertising, graphic design and paper ephemera. Photo wallets sort of combine all these things!

I also have a partner who earns a living buying and selling bric-a-brac, and that can include clearing out people’s houses after they’ve died. He often finds old photographs there, usually still in the paper wallets they came in when the roll of film was first developed. I became interested in how many different designs there were, and that some were very beautiful. I also got interested in how they reflected the photographic tastes and expectations of their times, whether that was the 1930s or the 1980s. I started keeping a few, and the rest is history.

Images from More Than A Snapshot

What's your favorite piece in your collection and why?

My favorite example changes according to my mood. Photographs with women holding cameras always really appeal to me. Images of women were standard features for photo wallets from the 1910s, as simple-to-operate cameras and commercial printing and developing services were marketed heavily to women. Companies perceived women to be more interested in the emotional value of photos of their family and friends than technical matters in photography, which were perceived to be more suited to men.

I also like the photo wallets of the 1960s where the saturated color is turned up very brightly to show the potential of new color film. I have a wallet from the former high street chemist, Timothy Whites, where the colors are almost impossible. There’s a photograph of dog in a yellow scarf and a baby with laser beam-like blue eyes. Most cheap cameras and film in the period would not have produced this kind of dazzling brightness but it’s an appealing fantasy, like the staggeringly blue skies of a seaside postcard.

Images from More Than A Snapshot

What are your personal thoughts about photography? Do you ever shoot film or miss the days of film photography?

I’ve never been a hugely committed photographer in any format. I’m more interested in looking at other people’s photographs (I realize that that makes me sound like a voyeur). I really value the democratic qualities of photography and the way that family photographs, and photographs of loved ones, can take on an almost magical quality, especially when they are paper prints. Because old personal photographs are such invested items, I feel a huge warmth towards them and I find them hard to leave behind in secondhand markets, even when I don’t know the people in them. Although most of what I do with old photographs is write about them and collect them, I have been doing some more creative things in recent years, such as making cyanotypes using old negatives and stitching into old photographs.

My new research project is about children’s photography and I’ve been buying some old novelty kids’ cameras recently and matching them up with expired film stock, which has been really fun. I also just bought a secondhand film camera that is the same brand (Hanimex 110) as my very first camera, which I got when I was about ten. I’m planning on giving it to my ten year old neighbor to play with. I’m excited to see the results.

Images from More Than A Snapshot

Where next for your collection of ephemera?

I am trying not to add to it much now the book has come out, but I’m finding it hard to resist. Also people keep giving me juicy new examples now they know what I collect. I’d like to have an exhibition of the whole lot, which amounts to many, many hundreds of examples. They would look incredible laid out in a vast grid.

More Than a Snapshot: A Visual History of Photo Wallets by Annebella Pollen is published by Four Corners Books.

2023-08-23 #news #people #book #uk #four-corners #more-than-a-snapshot #photo-wallets #ehemera

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