John Foster is a meticulous and savvy collector—"and I do not buy in bulk," he says. Over the years that he's been collecting personal photographs from garage sales, antique shops, and eBay—including the last 10 to 12 years of hard-core buying—he's assembled roughly 1,500 photographs that, to him, represent true found-art. Rare is the weekend he doesn't hit up a flea market or dusty old antiques store, locate a box of old photos, and rifle through them one by one, searching for the single, perfect shot. "It's not of any particular period of time, it's not any particular type of photograph, it's not any particular style," he says. "It's all about the image—how does it transcend the ordinary?" The price of transcendence? As little as $10, or as much as $400—"if you're buying from people who know what they are."
For decades, Foster and his wife have also collected various forms of folk art for their St. Louis home, a passion that has informed his photo quest. "When you look at the idea of enjoying art that's made by people without formal art education, you can easily make the jump to snapshots," he says. "Everyone takes photographs."
Photo: A young boy with smeared with either mud or pancake makeup grins giddily for the camera. "When I look for images, I look for something that makes you almost uncomfortable in your own skin—something that makes you observe more intently," Foster says. "That's when I know I have something that's more than just a snapshot."