[25Jan, p.103] Postcards are in the firing line again, along with holiday brochures and vernacular tourist photography. All perpetuate and reinforce rose-tinted views of places to visit or which have been visited. And paintings too, and visitors' sketchbooks.
The market for postcards and non-postal local photographs began in the mid-late 1800s and "objectified places into commodities that could be consumed and collected for a reasonable price" (LPE p.103). The market included stereo photographs and viewers (which reminds us of O'Sullivan in Part 1) and special aesthetic protocols to emphasise three dimensions.
The defence admits at the outset of the trial that many postcards can be quaint and twee and tend not to emphasise social and geographical unpleasantness, but many postcards are documentary and historic and a significant proportion, from galleries and museums reproduce works of art. In Exercise 3.2 I hope to explore a fuller range of postcard types than the course material acknowledges. Holiday brochures are guilty, probably to an even greater extent, of misleading (or at least not fully informing) prospective customers, but that is true of all commercial promotional photography. And while that is no real defence, it does at least lend some perspective.
[26Jan, p.105] To Martin Parr's collections of photographic ephemera. Parr published Boring Postcards in 1990 and USA and German equivalents in 2000 and 2001. I've the first for years but didn't realise that it was Parr. In the cmat.'s view,
Boring Postcards doesn’t actually contain the kinds of romantic, idealised images so despised by Godwin … [but] what we judge to be mundane or prosaic, such as motorways, service stations, tower blocks, school and other modernist municipal buildings … [photographed] because of their novelty value as photographic subjects. LPE p.105
I largely agree but question the cmat.'s pejorative attribution of motive as "because of their novelty value". When these town halls and service stations were built, the councils and other entities concerned were proud of them (Council and councillors have ever sought prestige and status, especially over other councillors, through town halls - the Victorians in neo-Gothic piles and in the 60s, buildings which soon came to be ridiculed by at the time were regarded as the coming thing) and would want to make sure that postcards were available. Similarly, in the early days of the motorways, travelling on them for whatever purpose, or for no purpose, was a matter of prestige and sending a postcard to impress friends neighbours and family would be a commonplace. You had to be there to understand these motivations.
But, admittedly it now seems a strange idea and looks even stranger in the form of an evidential, incriminating postcard.
The cmat. goes as far as admitting, "almost regardless of the image on the front, the postcard is often used as a mode of celebration. The postcard declares: This subject is special. Not only was it worthy of being photographed, but it was important enough to be on a postcard" (LPE p.105). Then a long quote from Clark (1997),
“... the landscape photograph implies the act of looking as a privileged observer so that, in one sense, the photographer of landscapes is always the tourist, and invariably the outsider. Francis Frith’s images of Egypt, for example, for all their concern with foreign lands, retain the perspective of an Englishman looking out over the land. Above all, landscape photography insists on the land as spectacle and involves an element of pleasure.” Clarke, 1997, pg.73
b: 1960 Glasgow
d: 2008 Dumfries
Site - Wikipedia
[27Jan, p.107] Maud Sulter has explored photographic privilege. Conscious of the under-representation of "of black women in the histories of art and photography" and in her project Syrcas (figs. A2-3), "revive[s] the forgotten history of the genocide of black Europeans during the Holocaust through the technique of photomontage. Sulter juxtaposes canonical imagery from classical European art history with African art objects, overlaid on vintage postcards of picturesque, unspecified Alpine landscapes" (quotes from the book of the Syrcas exhibition, reproduced in LPE p.107).
Sulter's other projects include Zabat (1989), 9 large portraits of contemporary black women representing the Greek muses with accompanying poems; Significant Others (1993), 9 photographs from her family archive, 4 including Sulter herself.
Readers will be reminded of Zoe Leonard and Cheryl Dunye in C&N Part 5.
The cmat. speculates that mobile phone cameras and social media communication will increasingly replace the postcard and it is difficult to disagree.