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John Foster's curious collection of snapshots

How a childhood organising things by shape, colour and texture led to a most unusual miscellany of images
John Foster, Picture on Table from Accidental Mysteries


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By his own admission, John Foster is a collector and has been almost all his life. The St Louis, Missouri-based graphic designer and brand consultant started small. 

“As a kid back in the 1950s and 60s, I collected things that I could find for free - things like rocks, bottle caps, seashells, leaves, butterflies and the like," he tells Phaidon. "Later, when I had a few cents to spend, I collected coins, comic books and baseball cards.” 

“Looking back, I know what all that was about. Though I didn’t realise it at the time, what I was actually doing was organising things by shape, colour and texture. I was curious about how things were similar or different. What I didn’t know then was that collecting objects was filling a need to understand the world around me. It was a way for me to make sense of it.” 

For the last 25 years or so of John’s adult life, his collecting habits have taken on a more focused connoisseurship in two key areas: collecting works by self-taught artists and vernacular photography, more commonly known as snapshots. 


John Foster

John Foster


Inbetween helping to brand arts and cultural organisations with TOKY Branding + Design, Foster spends hours and hours a week seeking our the best of these everyday photos. His writing and photo collection has been featured in Harper’s, and Newsweek Online. He has been named one of the “Top 100 Collectors” in the U.S. His collection has toured US museums, and his blog posts - both on his own Accidental Mysteries site and on Design Observer, where he’s a weekly contributor - have a huge international readership.

Foster’s collection of snapshots has been recognised for it’s extraordinary quality. “It is the rare snapshot that makes it into my collection,” he tells us. “I look for images that, in my mind, connect to works by the masters of photography. Whether the image was accidental or intentional doesn’t really matter to me. What I care deeply about is the quality of the image.”


Photography Today

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