“Fascinating . . . Lesy’s book contains troves of treasure.”
—Lynne Tillman, author of Men and Apparitions
“The images in this extraordinary collection Michael Lesy has assembled are raw, sometimes funny, sometimes poignant . . .”
—Stephen Shore, author of Uncommon Places: The Complete Works
“This transcendent book—art, archive, alchemy, profanity, punchline, epitaph, and birth notice—is Lesy’s masterpiece . . .”
—Jeff Sharlet, author of This Brilliant Darkness
In the summer of 1971, Michael Lesy and a friend found most of the snapshots in Snapshots 1971–77 in a dumpster behind a gigantic photo-processing plant in San Francisco. The photos were in the trash because the machines that printed them made them so fast—duplicates, triplicates, quadruplicates—that the people on the processing line couldn’t stop them. Lesy took home thousands of the discards from the dumpster. By the end of the summer, he’d formed his own collection of images of American life.
While Lesy looked through other people’s lives in pictures, the world was coming apart at the seams. The Vietnam War, the murderous rampage of the Manson Family, and the Attica State Prison uprising filled news headlines—and the general public carried on their lives, with hope and abandon and everything in between: chaos, cruelty, familial bonds and breaks, lawlessness, unwitting humor.
Lesy’s collection of snapshots from the 1970s is a time capsule of things familiar and alien. Now, fifty years later, everything and nothing about our lives has changed.
In Wisconsin Death Trip Lesy pulled back the curtain of “the good old days” to reveal the stark reality of American life from 1890 to 1910. The anonymous images in Snapshots 1971–77 serve as prophesies of present-day broken dreams, toils, and tribulations.
“In 1971, the photographic historian — which doesn’t do him justice: maybe photographic philosopher is closer, with trickster thrown in — found a lot of color photos in a dumpster in San Francisco, and thus, inevitably, presumably to mark the 50th anniversary of the discovery, has published them and a few more as a . . . book? Yes, it’s a time capsule. Artless family snaps, from weddings and vacations. Early ’70s haircuts. Hippie in geodesic dome. Guy with a new car. It’s not The Americans — but page by page it slowly grows more compelling, as if you’re sure that, if you keep going, at the end there’ll be a porn shot or a corpse. The picture I keep turning back to shows two big black loungers, the footrests formally stored, against a backdrop of white drapes. It’s as full of death as anything in Lesy’s first book, the 1973 Wisconsin Death Trip, about the collapse of rural Wisconsin during the depression of the 1890s, taken from the cache of the town photographer — and, for this picture at least, made with the same eye.”
—Greil Marcus, Los Angeles Review of Books
“In Michael Lesy’s fascinating book of common snapshots, I see ghosts, images of people who once performed the rituals of their age, society, culture. The people—like us and also not us—appear innocent, as if their times had been simple. But Lesy reminds us the photographs were shot in the 1970s, when life was no simpler. Looking at the snapshots, I wonder if, far in the future, these will be relics, read like hieroglyphs, a different language of costume and gesture, ancient humans performing peculiar rituals. Lesy’s book contains troves of treasure, inadvertent, touching and poignant histories of how people spend their days.”
—Lynne Tillman, writer, American Genius: A Comedy and Men and Apparitions
“Snapshots, at their best, present a vision of life uncolored by artistic pretension. The images in this extraordinary collection Michael Lesy has assembled are raw, sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, but always communicating the taste of experience.”
—Stephen Shore, author of Uncommon Places: The Complete Works
“Snapshots 1971–77 is a book of life, the completion of a visual hymn Michael Lesy began nearly 50 years ago with his landmark Wisconsin Death Trip. But it is not an end, because these snapshots invite us into a call-and-response of self and other. This transcendent book—art, archive, alchemy, profanity, punchline, epitaph, and birth notice—is Lesy’s masterpiece, a vision and a kind of vow, a commitment to looking and to seeing fulfilled.”
—Jeff Sharlet, author of This Brilliant Darkness: A Book of Strangers
“Wisconsin Death Trip shocked me into rethinking how I think about history. Every Michael Lesy book since has been a new revelation. Snapshots 1971–77 is like an unhinged family album for the Family of Man, intimate but universal, unspeakably strange yet familiar, often ineffably disturbing. If you don’t see yourself in these stranded glimpses, look again.”
—John Strausbaugh, author of The Village and Victory City
“These extraordinary photographs, which Michael Lesy kept in storage for almost half a century, would have looked unprepossessing and even banal for most of that period, but now time has brought out all their strangeness. They give a view of the 1970s that can be appreciated only at a distance—wacky, touching, abject, serene—while turning the spotlight on gender relations, race, class status, material possession, and the implication of violence.”
—Luc Sante, author of Maybe the People Would Be the Times
“Lesy’s eye—ever consistent, ever restless, ever curious—is our guide for how to recover our shared past without nostalgia or sentimentality. It’s all here: hope, anger, sex, sweetness, violence, the comic, the portentous, the American way of life and love and death.”
—Richard Deming, author of Art of the Ordinary and Day for Night
“Lesy once said that Wisconsin Death Trip was 'about all of us; it’s our shared history—the whole catastrophe.' Snapshots demonstrates a space where our past overlaps with another’s. Looking through I swear I saw my brother perched atop a diving board, grinning back at me. It’s a collective memory that allows us to find ourselves inside the pages amongst strangers.”
—Jim Goldberg, author of Raised by Wolves
“The images in the book are fascinating.... It’s not a flashy book of fashion photos, immaculate still lifes or images of politics or war. Instead, the book showcases everyday life during the period noted in the title. And it’s delightful.”
—Kenneth Dickerman, Washington Post
“Michael Lesy’s most brilliantly compelling, fascinating, and surprising work to date...”
—Jim Knipfel, The Believer