Accidental Mysteries brings exceptional anonymous snapshots to Washburn

Accidental Mysteries: Extraordinary Vernacular Photographs, a fifteen-year-old exhibition featuring a collection of 65 photographs that were discovered in antique stores, estate sales and flea markets, will be on display at the Mulvane Art Museum from June 2 through Aug. 1. Photographs displayed depict people sharing everyday experiences and range from everyday to unexpected situations.

John Foster, creator of the Accidental Mysteries exhibit, has been collecting outsider art for more than two decades but has further focused his collection on anonymous snapshots over the last 15 years. His photos range from the early 1900s through the end of the twentieth century. The majority of the photographs displayed were captured from 1900 to 1970.

To be considered outsider art, Foster feels that each photograph must depict an untold narrative and open-ended story.

“The overriding criteria for an anonymous snapshot to make it into my collection are that it has to be exceptional and have all the elements that I feel make up a great photograph,” Foster said. “I don’t collect photographs based on time period, style or subject matter. My photos are about finding the very best an ordinary snapshot can offer.”

Although this will be the first time the Accidental Mysteries exhibition will be displayed at the Mulvane Art Museum, Foster’s collection has been shown in 10 different museums around the country.

In addition to the exhibit, the Mulvane will also host a series of events which will allow guests to take a more interactive role in the exhibition. Topeka Found – Bring Your Own Mysteries will allow visitors to display their own anonymous photographs on a wall within Foster’s display.

Visitors will also have a chance to meet with Foster at the exhibition’s opening reception on Tuesday, June 9 from 6-8 p.m. Additionally a Brown Bag Lunch event will be held on Wednesday, June 10 from 12-1 p.m. during which Foster will conduct a brief tour and discussion of the exhibition.

The last event is scheduled on Sunday, June 14 from 6-7:30 p.m. That evening the museum will show the critically-acclaimed documentary Finding Vivian Maier, which follows a Chicago nanny who captured over 100,000 photographs during her lifetime.

Though she never publically shared her works, they were discovered in 2009, a few years after her death. After their discovery she was deemed one of the greatest street photographers of the 20th century.

Through these events, Myers hopes to allow visitors to connect with the art through their individual perspectives.

“What we’re really hoping is that people will really study the photographs in the exhibition and come up with their own interpretations,” Myers said.

The Mulvane Art Museum is located on the campus of Washburn University at S.W. 17th Street and Jewell. The museum is free to students, faculty and the general public, though donations are accepted.

For more information, e-mail Julie Myers at [email protected]