We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Snapshot Versions of Life

Richard Chalfen

Publication Year: 1987

Snapshot Versions of Life is an important foray into the culture of photography and home life from an anthropologist’s perspective. Examining what he calls “Home Mode” photography, Richard Chalfen explores snapshots, slide shows, family albums, home movies, and home videos, uncovering what people do with their photos as well as what their personal photos do for them.
    Chalfen’s “Polaroid People” are recognizable—if ironically viewed—relatives, uncles, aunts, and All-American kids. As members of “Kodak Culture” they watch home movies, take pictures of newborn babies, and even, in their darker moments, scratch out the faces of disliked relatives in group photographs. He examines who shoots these photos and why, as well as how they think (or don’t) of planning, editing, and exhibiting their shots. Chalfen’s analysis reveals the culturally structured behavior underlying seemingly spontaneous photographic activities. 

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

pdf iconDownload PDF (30.1 KB)

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (45.6 KB)
pp. vi

The writing of this book has been a long haul. It has been through several reorganizations and rewrites. Some people, more than others, saw what I was up to and supported the effort. For help with early conceptual issues, I wish to thank the late Sol Worth, and Erving Goffman. For more recent consultation, thanks go to...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (178.3 KB)
pp. 1-3

We know that the majority of American families own inexpensive cameras, and that ordinary people use those cameras to take enormous numbers of pictures of themselves. People save, preserve, and treasure these pictures more than many of their other possessions. We know, too, that people take time and trouble to organize their pictures into...

read more

1. Kodak Culture and Home Mode Communication

pdf iconDownload PDF (910.2 KB)
pp. 4-16

The introduction of camera equipment for anyone's everyday use has been an extraordinary event, influencing the ways that people can keep track of who they are and how they have lived. The increasing availability of inexpensive cameras has made us the most-photographed people in the history of the human condition. This access to cameras...

read more

2. Social Organization, Kodak Culture, and Amateur Photography

pdf iconDownload PDF (2.1 MB)
pp. 17-48

An ethnographic approach can be used to study the relationship of Kodak culture to the home mode. Ethnographic methods of observation are used by social scientists to describe social and cultural settings or well defined parts of a culture. This research strategy emphasizes the first hand observation of behavior as it occurs in "natural contexts" of...

read more

3. Cinema Naivete: The Case of Home Movies

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.4 MB)
pp. 49-69

The event/component framework can be applied to pictorial materials in a number of ways in response to a variety. of research questions. The next three chapters demonstrate both formal and informal applications of the framework to three genres of home mode communication. The first study of home movies uses the most literal...

read more

4. Snapshot Communication: Exploring the Decisive Half Minute

pdf iconDownload PDF (2.2 MB)
pp. 70-99

When studying snapshots and snapshot communication in the same way as home movies, two facts become evident. First, a great deal of similarity between home movies and snapshots appears in the patterned choice of participants, settings, topics, and certain aspects of code structure, in spite of differences between motion and still...

read more

5. Tourist Photography: Camera Recreation

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.3 MB)
pp. 100-118

By traveling and visiting unfamiliar places in the world, tourist photographers are offered new opportunities to reorganize certain components in shooting events. For instance, tourists often try to photograph people, places, activities, events that are not normally part of their at-home experience. But there are new hazards: any examination...

read more

6. Interpreting Home Mode Imagery: Conventions for Reconstructing a Reality

pdf iconDownload PDF (857.2 KB)
pp. 119-130

What do ordinary people "do with" their personal pictures, and, in turn, what does this imagery "do for" ordinary people? "Doing with" implies a study of what ordinary people physically "do with" their pictures-how people organize their images for various exhibitions and, secondly, how they organize themselves for showing off their pictures...

read more

7. Functional Interpretations

pdf iconDownload PDF (843.6 KB)
pp. 131-142

In his communications research, George Gerbner presents the basic elements of a communications perspective: A central concern of the study of communication is the production, organization, composition, structure, distribution, and functions of message systems in society. While Gerbner refers to mass communication, we have shown how his first...

read more

8. Home Mode Imagery in Other Communicative Contexts

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.3 MB)
pp. 143-160

We've precluded much discussion of how mass modes selectively borrow from the home mode, or how home mode imagery becomes incorporated into public, mass, or applied communication. However, we easily find many examples of "home movies" and "snapshots" that end up in these latter exhibition contexts. The majority of relevant...

read more

9. Conclusions and New Questions

pdf iconDownload PDF (582.8 KB)
pp. 161-168

Toward the beginning of this book, we noted that the human condition is reliant on several kinds of support systems-systems that are separate, yet interdependent. To the acknowledged significance of physical, biological, and social support systems, we are adding the symbolic environment, as a fourth support system. Within our symbolic...


pdf iconDownload PDF (2.3 MB)
pp. 169-196

read more

Appendix: Home Mode Questionnaire

pdf iconDownload PDF (360.7 KB)
pp. 197-206

The following questionnaire has been used in several projects that comprise this report. Use of the questionnaire begins to satisfy some quantitative needs. However it is best used as a starting point; questions can serve as a stimulus to elicit discussion on home mode activity. Discussion might begin by making reference to specific responses recorded...


pdf iconDownload PDF (694.4 KB)
pp. 207-213

E-ISBN-13: 9780879728748
Print-ISBN-13: 9780879723880

Publication Year: 1987