A Collection of Snapshots Doubles as an Anthropology of the Ordinary

Everyone Can Capture Mesmerizing and Humorous Images that Withstand Time

Man and woman posed on sidewalk with heads cropped
Unidentified artist (American, 20th century)
Photograph, gelatin silver print
* Gift of Peter J. Cohen
* Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

It started one weekend at a flea market, where Peter J. Cohen happened to wander over to a woman selling a tub of old snapshots and picked out five. “I don’t know why I bought these,” he thought, “but I’m going back next weekend.”

Twenty-five years later, Cohen has collected over 50,000 snapshots—personal amateur photographs—that were lost, discarded, or disowned by their original owners.

Cohen acquired them from flea markets, eBay, dealers, and boxes sent to him on consignment. While he has little formal art historical training—he works now as an …

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