The Student News Site of Northern Michigan University

The North Wind

The North Wind

The North Wind

Meet the Staff
Lily Gouin
Lily Gouin
Assistant Sports Editor

Hi! My name is Lily Gouin I am in my third year here at NMU. I am from Appleton, WI majoring in communications and double minoring in multimedia journalism and public relations. In my free time, I like...

The North Wind Editorial Sessions
About us

The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

NMU CARES — President Brock Tessman shares his feelings on the universitys new CARE Team. Photo Courtesy of Northern Michigan University
Letter to the Editor — Our New CARE Team
Brock TessmanFebruary 23, 2024

Accidentally Art

An old black-and-white snapshot of a dog standing on his hind legs, surrounded by small action figures and what seems to be a bocce ball set may not be considered art by most people. But photo collectors John and Teenah Foster, who count this photo as one of their many collectables, say all it takes is a deeper look.

“Accidental Mysteries,” an exhibition of vernacular photography from the collection of the Fosters, will be on display at DeVos Art Museum from Oct. 6 through Nov. 15. The exhibit features several photos which contain elements of artistic design and “accidental mysteries” caught on film.

The name of the exhibit comes from that mysterious aspect of the photos which spark initial interest.

“It’s sort of art being made without knowledge of it being art,” John said. “Just like looking at something in its creative, pure form.”

Story continues below advertisement

According to John, the couple has been involved in vernacular photography for a long time. Vernacular photography refers to photos taken by amateur photographers using everyday things as subjects.

To be classified as vernacular, a photograph must be free from what’s commonly considered artistic intent, John said. This includes every day snapshots, old year book photos, mug shots, and even medical and scientific photography.

The photographs are mostly found at thrift shops, flea markets, estate sales and online auctions, John said. However, it can take hours to find one that really stands out.

“I could go through an entire box of 500 photos and might find five or 10 and only one might be a really good one,” John said. “I look for qualities beyond normal snapshots, ones that really jump way out.”

Most of the time, the photographs artistic appeal becomes evident only after it is developed.

“Everything in the picture just comes together; there is no way [the photographers] could have planned it,” John said. “The great masters [of photography] would do this with intention.”

Absurd shots that draw curiosity, like the photo of the dog, are usually enough to win John over. Most photos he finds are taken anonymously, he added.

“Sometimes a name will be on the back, but you still have no idea who that is,” he said. “If you worked really hard, you could track down the family members.”

When they are not busy rummaging for lost treasures, John is a graphic designer and Teenah works as an agent for illustrators and photographers. Vernacular photography is a cherished hobby they both share.

“It gives back to me as an artist,” John said.

Melissa Matuscak, director and curator at the DeVos Art Museum, said she first saw the Fosters’ work at Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art in Chicago. She was so impressed that she asked the center for their contact information.

“What makes them different is that they really do have an eye for finding photos capturing these kinds of magical, mysterious moments,” Matuscak said. “These photos capture typical moments in everyday life, but with a twist.”

Matuscak, an avid photo collector herself, said the mystery is a big part of why people become interested in vernacular photography.

“You know you’ve found a good picture when you look at the picture and are curious about what is happening,” she said.

While a good first impression and curiosity sparked Matuscak’s interest in the Fosters, John said what appealed to him about showing at DeVos was that it was located on a university campus.

John, a former art teacher, said he enjoys showing the exhibit at universities for the educational aspect. He also enjoys interacting with students.

“A lot that photography students, and even just art students, can learn from looking at found objects,” Foster said.

Anthony Sundberg, a senior photography major and member of NMU’s student photographic society, said what he finds most interesting is that all the photos were taken by amateurs and are mostly old family photos. He adds that the techniques used to develop the pictures are old, which gives them more of a mysterious feel.

“It’s also interesting to see what people thought was important enough to take pictures of back then,” he said.

Sundberg, who helped set up the exhibit, said the photographs are shown in groups according to the activity happening in the photo and the environment they were taken in. Because they are shot using everyday subjects and settings, Matuscak said the photos will be something everyone can relate to.

“I think it will be successful, because anybody who walks in the gallery can connect with something in the show,” she said.

John will give a free lecture on vernacular photography on Friday Oct. 10 in the DeVos art and design room 165 at 5 p.m., followed by a reception from 6-8 p.m. in the front gallery of DeVos. Other events associated with the exhibit include a film titled “Other Peoples’ Pictures” on Oct. 17 at 6 p.m. For more information, visit the DeVos Web site at

More to Discover