Robert Flynn Johnson is the Curator Emeritus of the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. He is also the author of two of the best books on anonymous photography - "Anonymous: Enigmatic Images from Unknown Photographers" (published a few years ago) - and now "The Face in the Lens: Anonymous Photographs" (due for release next week). Together this pair of books make him the John Szarkowski of vernacular photography, the sultan of snaps.
The pleasure of great anonymous photographs lies not only in how they reflect well known images and concepts, but in the freshness and surprise they provide. Take the photo above from Johnson's new book. It is truly a masterpiece . It has humor, a Sander/Arbus/Avedon flair, a surrealist edge, perfect composition, and a wonderful sense of period in the hatted garb of the background figures. Everything about it seems perfect. (Take out the Flatiron looking building in the center background, for example, and it doesn't work as well compositionally.) And this is just one of dozens of great pictures in Johnson's extraordinary collections as you can see from the covers below.