Anonymous Snapshots of Natural Wonders

In 1922–as snapshot photography, car ownership, and tourism spread across in America–Kodak launched a national advertising campaign in which roadside signs, placed on scenic routes, exclaimed “Picture ahead! Kodak as you go!”  And legions of on-the-move, amateur photographers did.  Natural “wonders” were popular subjects, as they had been in late 19th century England when scientists, as Jennifer Tucker noted in Nature Exposed: Photography as Eyewitness in Victorian Science (2005), asked amateurs to share their snapshots of lightning, storms, rainbows, and clouds with researchers gathering data about natural phenomena.  These 20th century snapshots of geysers, from the collection of Peter J. Cohen, point to the public’s continuing desire to observe and picture geological spectacles.  Within a few months of collecting, Cohen realized he had already purchased two of three snapshots of “Old Faithful” in Yellowstone National Park.  Why? “While all my other pictures had people as the subject,” he explained, “the ones of geysers were majestic and dynamic at the same time… and while similar no two photos will ever be the same.”