Are Flea Markets Better Than Galleries For Photography Fans?

Posted by David Ozanich — 28 Apr 2011


I love me some Antiques Roadshow. That's why this Newsweek item on dime-store photography finds caught my eye.
John Foster and his wife have long been collectors, but he's more recently trained his eye to find that one perfect photo in the middle of a stack in a dusty antiques store or a yellowing flea market box. Are bargain bins the new galleries?

"It's not of any particular period of time, it's not any particular type of photograph, it's not any particular style," he says. "It's all about the image--how does it transcend the ordinary?" The price of transcendence? As little as $10, or as much as $400--"if you're buying from people who know what they are."

"When you look at the idea of enjoying art that's made by people without formal art education, you can easily make the jump to snapshots," he says. "Everyone takes photographs."

So far he's scavenged about 1,500 photos and stores them in his St. Louis, Missouri home. Foster says of the image above:

The stripes on the rug--photographed at an intriguing, starkly defined diagonal--provide contrast with the girl's lily-white body and attire. "She's almost in a death pose," Foster says. "That's what I like about her: she's completely white, still, washed-out and almost plastic.  If this photograph is meant to have any cheesecake-y overtones, it doesn't at all--she's become very much this non-sexual object."


Foster selects some images because they remind him of his most revered photographers' work. "Sally Mann is one of my all-time favorites, and I always call this little photograph my Sally Mann," he says of the photographer famous for her black-and-white portraits of her children. "This is the emergence of youth: the little girl on the right, her shoulder is so beautiful, like Greek sculpture," he says. "And on the left, we're brought back to this image of childhood with the watermelon. Whoever snapped this photograph got it right at that perfect moment."


"The longer you look at this image, the more things you'll keep seeing," Foster says of this French photograph taken from behind the dashboard of a trolley or bus. The people in the circular rearview mirror, the reflection on the windsheild, the intersection of the two buses, and the multiple perspectival angles lend this photo "four or five different levels to explore," he says. "It's deep."

So what do you think? Is any of the art with a capitol A?

See more of Foster's finds at Newsweek and his website Accidental Mysteries.

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