sepia toned photograph of a person in the mountains, bending over with their rear end to the camera

Anonymous snapshot photograph, Gift of Peter J. Cohen, 2019.633

Going Viral: Photography, Performance, and the Everyday

Snapshots from the Peter J. Cohen Collection Gift
Feb 7, 2020–Jun 7, 2020
Morelle Lasky Levine '56 Works on Paper Gallery
Open to the Wellesley College campus community only

*Please Note: The Davis Museum at Wellesley College has suspended all public access through March 31. Public programs have been canceled or rescheduled and gallery access is limited to the Wellesley College campus community. Please call for more information and updates: 781.283.2051.*

Today, we use the phrase “going viral” to describe the rapid reception and reproduction of media on the internet. However, since the dawn of amateur photography in the late 19th century, critics have warned of a “universal snapping psychosis.” Long before the age of the selfie, the craze for candid cameras spawned innumerable tropes that snapshooters found irresistible. This exhibition of early 20th-century American snapshots considers our everyday relationship to photography: the ways in which we mediate, understand, and narrate our lives through the snapping and sharing of photographs, and how and why certain types of images become socially infectious.

Mined from the Peter J. Cohen Collection gift of nearly 1,000 anonymous snapshots, the exhibition is organized into 11 sections that explore various performances, rituals, and gestures that have gone viral via photography. The texts for each section provide micro-histories of these diverse social phenomena and demonstrate how vernacular photographs might function as affective historical documents and offer rich rewards for the imaginative historian, anthropologist, or sociologist.

The exhibition will also showcase an original Kodak camera, early amateur photography manuals, Kodak 1s and 2s, 20th-century album pages, and six photo albums as well as the latest from Kodak—the Printomatic—with which visitors can shoot and print their own snapshots in the gallery.

We invite you to share your own snapshots and impressions with us on social media using #davisgoingviral.

Curated by Carrie Cushman, Linda Wyatt Gruber ’66 Curatorial Fellow in Photography.

For more information, please contact:


Generously supported by:

Linda Wyatt Gruber (class of 1966) and Wellesley College Friends of Art at the Davis.