Essays



Curator’s Statement
by Olivia Lahs-Gonzales

Over the years, long-time folk art collectors John and Teenuh Foster have assembled an exceptional group of snapshot photographs from forays to antique shops, flea markets and on-line auctions. The found images are orphans of another life, holding secrets within them regarding their real narratives. Rediscovered, these photographs have been given new life and lie open to reinterpretation. They invite the viewer to mine their imaginations to create new meanings or remember in new ways.

Found photographs provoke the imagination and can carry multiple connotations. They have the unique capacity to be transformed by what the viewer brings to them. Open vessels that have a past, a present, and an infinitely variable future, these mysterious images provide both realities and fictions.



Photographs capture moments in time and play them back for us through our own experiences, memories and transactions. They are, as the French theorist Roland Barthes describes them, a superimposition “of reality and of the past.” When looking at photographs of the long-dead or places that we have never visited, we are caught in a moment that is not quite now and not quite then. We see through the eyes of the photographer a past that is brought into the present.

In this exhibition, over 65 photographs from the Foster collection have been selected from hundreds, the bulk of which are shown in their original small snapshot format. From this collection, John Foster has selected several images to present as large format inkjet prints, further transforming these mysterious moments into powerful narrative vessels.

Found photographs have been recognized in recent years as legitimate and independent works of art in a number of published monographs and important museum exhibitions, although their original purpose was often only a humble record of family events. Dynamic and mysterious, these carefully chosen photographs are beautiful, gem-like moments of lost time that invite interactive participation from the viewer.


Olivia Lahs-Gonzales is Director of the Sheldon Art Galleries in St. Louis, Missouri. Previously, she served as acting head of the Department of Prints, Drawings and Photographs at the Saint Louis Art Museum, where she worked for nine years as Assistant Curator and Curatorial Assistant. Lahs-Gonzales retains a specialization in photography, but has also published on prints, drawings, painting, and sculpture. Exhibitions with publications include My Nature: Works with Paper by Kiki Smith (1999), Defining Eye: Women Photographers of the 20th Century (1997), and Photography in Modern Europe: The Spring 1996 Bulletin of The Saint Louis Art Museum.

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