Peter J. Cohen is a New York-based collector of snapshots and vernacular photographs. From a modest start at a local flea market over two decades ago, Cohen’s stunning collection has since swelled to more than 60,000 photographs organized into 130 categories. Today Cohen continues acquiring discarded or disowned photographic material from dealers and eBay. The archive spans much of the twentieth century and encompasses many different processes and formats, including gelatin silver prints, cyanotypes, hand-tinted photos, chromogenic color prints, Polaroids, real photo postcards, and complete photo albums.

The term “snapshot” was popularized shortly after the invention of the Kodak box camera in the 1880s. The term came to describe photographs of everyday life using a handheld camera, often yielding unexpected discoveries that are results of intention, mistake, or chance. As “anonymous” photographs are rescued they become societal artifacts that collectively trace a history of private image making. These visual objects offer a deeper understanding of the amateur photographer’s engagement with the ubiquitous medium. Cohen’s collection celebrates the importance of snapshot photography—a rich form of expression and a cultural symbol for all.

Cohen has donated significant portions of his archive to about 40 museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, MFA Boston, The Art Institute of Chicago, The Morgan Library, and SFMoMA. See here for a comprehensive list of institutions.

While still avidly acquiring, Cohen’s goal is to continue donating the vast majority of his collection to museums and educational institutions during the coming years. He welcomes inquiries and visits from museum curators, editors, scholars, historians, and educators.


Permanent Collections

Amon Carter Museum of American Art

The Art Institute of Chicago

Boston Museum of Fine Arts

Bowdoin College Museum of Art

Cincinnati Museum of Art

Columbus Museum of Art

George Eastman Museum

Houston Museum of Fine Arts

Memphis Brooks Museum

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Morgan Library

Museum of Modern Art

Nelson-Atkins Museum

New Orleans Museum of Art

Pier 24

Portland Art Museum

Rhode Island School of Design Museum

St. Louis Art Museum

Vassar College Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center

Victoria & Albert Museum