It would be easy to think of snapshot photography as professional photography dumbed way down for mass consumption. Its crudity is in fact pretty striking. The equipment has to be cheap and easy to use – that’s the whole point for the consumer – so it’s only as good as it has to be. And the pictures tend to be casual, even careless. So maybe snapshots are what you get if you take some desirable qualities away from professional photos.
That’s wrong, though. Snapshot photography is a form of its own. It has some things that professional photography doesn’t have. Casual and crummy as they may be, snapshots are taken for their own reasons and on their own occasions. They have their own approach to the world.
For example, snapshots permit a subjectivity that’s completely out of bounds for regular documentary photography. A snapshooter does not feel the documentarian’s quasi-scientific responsibility to show the world as it is, an objective world that doesn’t have the camera itself stirring up trouble in it. The reason is that the snapshooter doesn’t try to be outside anything. The snapshooter is someone immersed in life who just happens to be carrying a camera. The documentarian is a looker; the snapshooter is a liver. The documentary photographer records an event; the snapshooter is part of it. For the snapshooter, the taking of the picture is most likely inseparable from a real-life relationship.
So to say that you can’t intrude with your snapshot camera amounts to saying that you can’t be intrusive. Of course you can. But a documentary photographer isn’t allowed to. Images like these 33 snapshots, in which the photographer is so obviously unwelcome, are very rare in straight photography.