The Call of the Wild

Hambourg and the Met's Mia Fineman, who wrote a lively essay for the Other Pictures book, also note the formal correspondence between these anonymous photos and work by some of photography's greatest artists. But they all acknowledge that the reverse influence—of snapshot material on art photography—is much more pervasive and significant. And no matter how much Walther enjoys the game of matching styles, he's quick to admit that these similarities are merely "lucky coincidences"—part of the serendipitous pleasure of sifting for gold at the flea market, but, in the end, "never of much importance to me at all. I think the images speak for themselves."

And, indeed, they do. Walther's "other pictures" are among the quirkiest and most engaging photos in town right now. Full of accidents, mystery, and often confounding visual dislocation, they have the innocence and freestyle verve of folk art. But because they've all been selected by an extremely sophisticated eye, the pictures in this collection can't help but echo work that's far from artless. Walther says he didn't start buying snapshots until he was 10 years into his larger collection and had the confidence to pick up unattributed work at auction or from a dealer because he recognized and responded to its particular quality. "You sort of trust your judgment more and more, and establish those criteria yourself," he says. "I think you need that confidence in order to discover the significance in vastly overlooked, usually discarded objects like snapshots at the flea market, where you encounter them by the thousands."

Finding his place in the world: the collector’s alter ego, circa 1940
lent by the Thomas Walther Collection, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Finding his place in the world: the collector’s alter ego, circa 1940


Other Pictures: Vernacular Photographs From the Collection of Thomas Walther
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue
Through August 27

So it's not surprising that some of Walther's snaps recall the Bauhaus's off-kilter panache or Italian Futurist time-lapse or Russian Constructivist agitation. Walther was already trained to seek out these qualities at their most refined; at the flea market, he could relax his criteria a bit, but his eye remained highly discriminating. Speaking of his core collection, he says, "I was attracted to peculiar emanations of the human spirit," and that's just what you'll find in "Other Pictures": weird history, lovely lunacy, the call of the wild.

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