The industrialisation of the camera in the late 19th century, with Kodak ("you press the button, we do the rest") and its flexible celluloid film leading the way, encouraged the emergence of the snapshot – a photographic genre which took a long time to pique the interest of photography historians and collectors.
Constant technological progress saw cameras become lighter, and the photographic plate more sensitive so that speeds were reduced to less than a second. Lenses were improved with the invention of the shutter, which precisely regulated exposure time, and the viewfinder, which enabled users to frame their pictures. All of this led to the advent of a whole new category – amateur photography – opening up the medium to the spectacle of the everyday, a world away from formal, posed portraits.
It came to be characterised by natural poses, the unusual, the unexpected, by movement and soft focus, some- times to the detriment of the photographer's efforts: photography revealed its autonomy, the everyday its in- subordination. The snapshot, which is now an acknowledged, collected and studied art form, has had multiple incarnations, as amplified by Polaroid and digital cameras. Released from its shoebox or family album, it has made the transition from the anecdotal to the poetic and has conquered the world of art and museums.
That Precise Moment
For over 30 years, first in Belgium and then in the United States, Thierry Struvay has been collecting anony- mous photographs from flea markets and antiquarian book, print and paper fairs. He has spent years looked at thousands of pictures hidden away in boxes and over time he has trained his eye to spot a magical moment, a fortuitous reference to a renowned photographer, the components of a drama or an expression of happiness.
As well as a rescuer, the last bastion against the destruction of the negative, Thierry Struvay is also an inventor – in the archaeological sense – and a creator by dint of his selection, rejecting some while saving others. He is interested in photographs that are either everyday celebrations far removed from art, or naive attempts at art. Thierry Struvay turns his attention to unearthing glimpses of lives whose beginnings and ends we can never know, but can only imagine.
Moments that are festive or tragic, banal or sublime, solitary or sociable, against familiar or exotic backdrops, in the secrecy of rooms with closed curtains or in the bright sunlight of summer beaches... It seems that every possible moment has been photographed, by countless photographers all over the world, capturing what was most precious to them as they clicked the shutter – that precise moment.
It is only right that these photographs brought back from America should now be revived, not in the albums from which they have escaped, but on the walls of collectors and admirers who will not just acquire but adopt these Polaroids, these rectangles with their scalloped edges, these extraordinary specimens, these unexpec- ted encounters frozen in time.
© Xavier Canonne
Director of the Museée de la Photographie