Snapshot Chronicles: Inventing the American Photo Album (Princeton Architectural Press)

Barbara Levine (author), Stephanie Snyder (curator), Princeton Architectural Press (New York) and Cooley Memorial Art Gallery, Reed College (Portland, Oregon),


Stephanie Snyder, Director of the Cooley Memorial Art Gallery at Reed College, was organizing an exhibition of Barbara Levine’s extraordinary collection of early American photo albums. A catalogue was proposed to accompany the show, but Reed’s budget didn’t afford the substantial book that everyone wanted. When I was approached to design Snapshot Chronicles, I had been collecting vintage photo albums for some time, and had been using selections from their pages in other projects. So it took no time to feel attuned to the material.

Once I became part of the project, I too yearned for a larger, more complete book. I contacted my editor at Princeton Architectural Press, who had recently published some successful books featuring vernacular photography, to see if she might be interested in partnering with Reed. Princeton agreed, and so we started planning for the major project we all had dreamed of.

At an early stage of the design process, I had access to Levine’s albums and began scanning pages and cropping details. I found interest in details that made the collection and time period unique — hats, spoked wheels, damaged photos, handwriting. I enjoyed the subtle variations and commonalities among the the thousands of pictures collected among the pages. I arranged to have every page scanned and hunted for groupings that would work well in the book. In the final book, fifteen different groups of details are featured.

Snapshot Chronicles: Inventing the American Photo Album