In the summer of 1971, Michael Lesy and a friend found most of the snapshots in Snapshots 1971-77
in a dumpster behind a gigantic photo-processing plant in San Francisco. The photos were in the trash because the machines that printed them made them so fast-duplicates, triplicates, quadruplicates-that the people on the processing line couldn't stop them. Lesy took home thousands of the discards from the dumpster. By the end of the summer, he'd formed his own collection of images of American life.
While Lesy looked through other people's lives in pictures, the world was coming apart at the seams. The Vietnam War, the murderous rampage of the Manson Family, and the Attica State Prison uprising filled news headlines-and the general public carried on their lives, with hope and abandon and everything in between: chaos, cruelty, familial bonds and breaks, lawlessness, unwitting humor.
Lesy's collection of snapshots from the 1970s is a time capsule of things familiar and alien. Now, fifty years later, everything and nothing about our lives has changed.
In Wisconsin Death Trip
Lesy pulled back the curtain of "the good old days" to reveal the stark reality of American life from 1890 to 1910. The anonymous images in Snapshots 1971-77
serve as prophesies of present-day broken dreams, toils, and tribulations.
Michael Lesy, professor emeritus of literary journalism, received a B.A. in theoretical sociology at Columbia University, an M.A. in American social history at the University of Wisconsin, and a Ph.D. in American cultural history at Rutgers University.
He has published 13 books of history, biography, and narrative nonfiction. Professor Lesy's most recent book, Repast: Dining Out at the Dawn of the New American Century, 1900-1910
(2013), written in collaboration with his wife, Lisa Stoffer, was inspired by the New York Public Library
's Buttolph Menu Collection. Many of his books have been based on historic photographs, gathered in archives; several have been based on oral histories, gathered during fieldwork. Professor Lesy's first book, Wisconsin Death Trip
, has remained in print since 1973. Professor Lesy's book, Murder City
(2007), grew out of a Hampshire College tutorial.
Professor Lesy's books have been made into operas, plays, dance performances, and films. In 2007, the United States Artists
Foundation named Professor Lesy its first Simon Fellow. In 2013, he was the recipient of a Guggenheim Foundation