Still have that old Instamatic shot of you playing badminton while wearing madras Bermuda shorts and a tie-dyed t-shirt? (I do.) Besides being embarrassing, it actually fits into a category of photography called vernacular—ordinary, everyday pictures like family snapshots, candids, and vacation photos, as well as IDs, crime-scene photos, photo-booth strips, Facebook images—just about anything, really.
Vernacular photography is considered the opposite of art, but the shots can have surprising depth and cultural value. They are often unintentionally revealing, strange, funny, or heartbreaking—or all that at once. Some think of vernacular photos as folk art. And it has become a genre for fine-art photographers who use vernacular forms as a means of expression, blurring the line between art and “real life.”
The results are often stunning—such as those featured in a current exhibition at The Art Institute of Chicago. It’s showing more than 100 amazing images from its collection of fine-art vernacular photographs in a exhibition entitled “In the Vernacular,” running Feb. 6-May 31. Featured artists include greats like Walker Evans, Cindy Sherman, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Gary Winogrand, Andy Warhol, Lee Friedlander, Martin Parr, Nikki S. Lee, and others.
Photo credits: (Top) Garry Winogrand. Cape Kennedy, Florida, (Apollo 11 Moon Shot), 1969. Gift of Elizabeth and Frederick Myers. © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco. (Bottom) Martin Parr. Fashion Magazine: Fashion Shoot, New York, 1999. David C. and Sarajean Ruttenberg Arts Foundation Purchase Fund.