Lost and Found: Stories for Vernacular Photographs

December 13, 2019 - January 12, 2020

Snapshot of a child throwing a football

Since 2017, the Ackland Art Museum has worked with noted UNC alumnus and collector Robert E. Jackson (MA, ’78) to assemble a collection of vernacular photography. Vernacular photographs are those that are made by individuals, typically presumed to be non-artists, for a wide variety of reasons, including snapshots of everyday subjects taken for personal pleasure. When collected, vernacular photographs typically lack contextual information—basic identifiers such as the names of the subjects, locations, and photographers, as well as the dates the photos were taken—and are, therefore, often discussed and appreciated solely in terms of technique, aesthetic composition, and their amateur or “outsider” status. Lost and Found: Stories for Vernacular Photographs flips this script, inviting the public to supply narratives for the exhibited snapshots. Just as these vernacular photographs themselves—relegated to flea markets, thrift shops, and eBay—are rediscovered by avid collectors and institutions, so, too, can the lost contexts and narratives of these photos be “found” by newly created stories and captions.

Of the seventy photographs in the exhibition—their formats as wide-ranging as cyanotypes and Polaroids—a selection of twenty were part of a “context contest” that was open to the public in advance of the exhibition opening. Now, individuals are encouraged to submit captions and short stories in response to all 70 of the images online or in the gallery. Selected captions and stories will be displayed alongside their generative photographs, with an invitation to all museum visitors to add their own responses to these works as well as to the other fifty photographs in the show. While the original stories behind them may never be known, Lost and Found invites viewers to celebrate the potential of these vernacular photographs to stimulate our collective storytelling imagination.

Click here to read the Early Bird Winner’s story!

This exhibition is funded in part by a grant from Arts Everywhere.

Click here to read the press release.
Click here to read all the winning submissions!
Click on the arrow below to hear the radio commercial.

Come to the Ackland Art Museum to see “Lost and Found: Stories for Vernacular Photographs,” featuring 70 images ranging from cyanotypes to Polaroids. “Lost and Found” flips the script, inviting the public to supply creative narratives for the snapshots in the exhibition as part of a contest. Selected captions and short stories will be displayed, and visitors are invited to add their own. Open from December 13th through January 12th at the Ackland Art Museum, located at 101 South Columbia Street in downtown Chapel Hill. Admission to the Ackland is always free. The Ackland: Look Close, Think Far.


Click HERE to watch a video story about the exhibition on Spectrum News.

Public Programs

2nd Friday ArtWalk
December 13, 2019

Caption and Story Contest

Contest Instructions:

Select one photo from this list of 70 that will be displayed in the exhibition, then write a photo caption (up to 50 words) or a story (50-300 words) to bring the photo to life! There are no restrictions on the form or content of your story, so be creative! You are welcome to submit more than one caption or story.

While we respect the creative autonomy of all artists, the Ackland reserves the right to edit submissions for propriety.


Early bird deadline: December 8, 2019, 11:59 p.m.

Submissions before the early bird deadline will be considered for the early bird grand prize, AND they will also continue to be considered for all other prizes awarded at the conclusion of the exhibition. Early bird submissions are also the only way to guarantee that your submission is displayed within the exhibition galleries throughout the entire run!

Final deadline: January 5, 2020, 11:59 p.m.

Rolling submissions will be accepted through the end of the exhibition to be considered for all other prize categories. We will update the gallery displays with new stories as we receive them.


Early bird grand prize: $200 credit to the Museum Store

Twenty-four prizes to be awarded at the end of the exhibition:
In categories for under 18, 18+, UNC student, and UNC affiliate
For each of 2 submission formats: photo captions (fewer than 50 words) and stories (50-300 words)

1st place: $100 credit to the Museum Store

2nd place: Individual membership to the Ackland

Honorable mention: A copy of Fortune Smiles: The Tyche Foundation Gift, a collection catalogue including creative responses to the Ackland’s collection by NC author Allan Gurganus


Authors who submit before the early bird deadline will be notified of the outcome of their submission on December 13. Authors who submit before the final deadline will be notified by January 10.

Contest Submission Form

The contest is now closed.


Image credit: Unidentified artist, American, Throwing Football, 1971, color photographic print, 3 7/8 × 5 7/16 in. (9.9 × 13.8 cm). Ackland Art Museum, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Ackland Fund, 2018.23.27.