The images have been collected from the author’s collection of nearly five thousand photographs, mostly the work of unknown photographers who did not expect to be promoted outside of friends and family. They found their way into the world through estate sales, secondhand shops and eBay, or were uploaded to various platforms – pieces of personal history, now free from personal memories and available for scholarly visits or, more generally, travel curiosity. Spiegel initially admits that “when I look at photos of a family that is not mine, I often feel snatched or even monitored.” On the other hand, in many films, people imitate poses from advertisements, movies and (of course) tubes. The audience becomes less snoopy than arriving too late to the imaginary audience for a performance.
It is impossible to know how many TV snapshots were taken over the years; Probably millions. Unlike selfies, however, it seems to have been a practice at the time without name or recognition. One of its archives now exists because Spiegel created one.
After reading Thirty or forty pages of the book, I thought I could only guess at what discipline Spiegel was working. History, media studies, and cultural anthropology seemed like possibilities. In fact, he is a professor of screen culture at Northwestern University, and his monograph portion of the study acknowledges the contemporary nature of situations where people watch television on a laptop, a tablet, and interact with it. A smart phone.
The structure of the experience here involves much more than the reminiscences of buying a big-ticket. Since television has become a common feature of the home environment (Spiegel writes that 90 percent of American homes had at least one set in the 1960s), posing with it for a photo has become a kind of ritual – an element of family gathering, a scene that identifies someone. Departing for a party or graduation is a final moment in front of the bride’s camera before guests leave them alone.
Looking at such different images, it becomes clear that the set – like a piece of furniture or a stain on the wall – is not visible in the scene but is fundamentally irrelevant to it. Rather, it feels like something like a stove if not a family member. The living room is perfectly organized around the TV. But the screen does not simply or exclusively preempt all attention flow. The area in front of it has become a kind of stage, and Spiegel notes that the furniture often appears to have been moved to extend the space of the performance. People pose with musical instruments, or pull, or plan sequentially as if on a storyboard. Articles and cartoons from the 1950s seemed to engage men with losing interest in their spouses, attracting their attention through onscreen beauties or professional sports. Many pictures depict the counter-attack of glamor poses; A smaller number offer more obvious cheesecakes. Marilyn Monroe’s picture was the work of a professional photographer, as seen in some other pictures TV snapshot.But some amateurs seem to have taken it home, and probably evolved there.
A few years ago, Spiegel notes, a Dutch curator, Eric Kessels, “discovered TV snapshots from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) taken in the 1980s, when television became widely available on the PRC and, with a major feature of the domestic space,” ” The woman is using her TV set as the backdrop for a show to show off her clothes. ” Cross-cultural generalizations are always dangerous, even with many large data sets, but the parallels are interesting. Spiegel considers snapshots “as a source of questions rather than answers, as a way of looking at things that are generally considered unnecessary to go unnoticed.”
Their sudden visibility – the fact that they come to be seen as curious after such a long time – is now conditioned by culture to a greater extent than when the images were made. Spiegel hints that he worked on the book in the years when the center of gravity of television was shifted from broadcasting to digital streaming. The archive of his snapshots records a stage in the development of compressed media in the rearview mirror. But they are now the embodiment of something much more familiar. The compact camera and TV set match the two stages of image transmission: production and use, respectively. In these snapshots, the image cycle is limited: flow, not flood. The screen remains part of the home space – and not yet, it is now becoming a kind of home in its own right.