Snapshots preserve more than individual likeness and memory. Photographs of celebrations, vacations, and gatherings of family and friends are collected with the aim of constructing and preserving a personal identity for future generations. What happens, however, when a snapshot becomes an image “type”—transferred into the hands of a collector and folded into a broader cultural history?

This and many other questions are discussed in this fascinating selection of anonymous images depicting three women. Presumably all taken by nonprofessionals, these snapthots were acquired over time by a private collector interested in their eclectic yet familiar details, who named the grouping after the iconic Greco-Roman motif, the Three Graces.

In traditional western iconography, the Three Graces personify beauty, charm, and grace in both nature and humanity. In the 150 snapshots assembled here, the remarkable consistency of confidence and poise projected by the trios of women—in varied settings, in various states of dress/undress, and over a period of more than fifty years—reveals the formal and behavioral conventions that evolved as photography's popularity skyrocketed among amateurs. To this end, the iconography of the Three Graces provides a framework for understanding the generational differences and cultural influences that shaped women's self-presentation in front of the camera in the first half of the 20th century.

—Michal Raz-Russo

The Three Graces: Snapshots of 20th-Century Women
by Michal Raz-Russo
Hard cover, 160 pages
8.5 in x 6.2 in
Yale University Press, 2011
ISBN : 978-0300177343
Buy on Amazon