Small Stories: Defaced & Captioned Snapshots

Soon after the invention of photography, people began to hand alter their photographs. At first photographers made notes on glass plates and negatives that would appear on their images. As photography grew in popularity, there were hobby activities such as hand tinting and cutting photos into attractive shapes. When Kodak invented the Autographic camera in 1914, amateurs were encouraged to use the camera's supplied stylus to write notes on the edge of the film's paper backing. Autographic advertisements stated that the intention was for the notes to appear in the margins however "they may be shown on the print itself-if desired."


Along with these widely known practices, snap shooters also routinely and fearlessly, with pen in hand, wrote directly on their snapshots. Names, dates, stories and witticisms written on borders or across the image, along with arrows, numbers, cartoonish circles drawn around eyes, and faces scribbled out, are a few examples of the ways people ensured their snapshots expressed personal sentiments and stories. The personalizing tradition continues today as can be witnessed by the popularity of image alteration programs such as Photoshop. But then, unlike today, there was no effort to conceal the embellishments people made to their photographs. Crudely personalized and written on vintage snapshots are often funny, surprising and oddly endearing. 

Pictured above: Photograph from the collection of Barbara Levine