Exercise 3.2

Postcard views


Gather a selection of postcards that you’ve either bought yourself or received from other people. If you don’t have any, then try to find some in a charity shop or car boot sale, borrow some from other people, or see what you can find on an internet search.
Write a brief evaluation (around 300 words ) of the merits of the images you find. Importantly, consider whether, as Fay Godwin remarked, these images bear any relation to your own experience of the places depicted in the postcards.
Make a brief response (around 200 words ) to Graham Clarke’s comments on ‘privileged observation’ through a creative intervention into one or more of your postcards which in some way disrupts the viewer’s position. You may choose to do this as a montage like Saulter, or by drawing/painting/cutting parts of the postcard. This task can be done digitally or analogue. Post your results to your learning log. Reflect on the intervention you have made and the alternative reading it has given to the landscape. Consider whether it’s possible not to be a ‘tourist’ or ‘outsider’ as the maker of landscape images?

LP&E, p.108

Part 1 – Part 2 – Reminiscences – Appendix

In Defence of Postcards

[27Jan22] I intend in this exercise to confront and refute the course material’s entrenched position on postcards which rests on Fay Godwin’s 1986 South Bank Show statement, that postcards (as a subset of picturesque imagery) depict “a very soft warm blanket of sentiment, which covers everybody’s idea about the countryside”.

This statement is not challenged or qualified in any way, merely accepted and built upon, but, while not without merit, the view is fundamentally flawed in three respects.

1. No mention is made of the fact that most postcards do not depict the countryside. The categories of card listed in the Miller’s Guide to Postcards (Connor, 2000) include Greetings cards, Humour, Entertainment, Glamour, Children Animals, Topographical cards, Transport, Reportage, Exhibitions, Advertising, Political cards, both World Wars, Icons and celebrities and Modern times. To that list I would add Gallery and Museum exhibits as that has become a significant sector of the market (see Haynes, below).
Petrulis (2018) states, “When postcards are sold they are usually broken down into just two major categories … view-cards representing scenes of various locations, which form the bulk of cards produced. And then there are topicals that represent everything else … [in] topicals you will find … a full spectrum of human interests and endeavours.”

2. Many postcards demonstrably do not seek to glamorise their subjects. A subjective, empirical evaluation of the cards encountered on this exercise suggests that there are far more plain, documentary cards of exterior subjects than warmly sentimental ones, to paraphrase Godwin. Even those that may be expected to glamorise their subject often singularly fail to do so, for example the avowedly Picturesque North Wales, fig. A1. My personal and admittedly prejudiced view is that it is pretty well impossible to glamorise my home town of Newport: it is unremittingly depressing.
That these cards fail to draw attention to local social ills is undoubtedly the case, but that is not their purpose. They are commercial products on sale to effect trivial social exchanges between friends and family, or provide reminders of excursions to their purchasers: gritty social realism would not sell in this context. Jonathan Meades (2021, p.40) describes postcards as “mute, unselfconscious social-historical documents, bland emblems of the everyday whose value will not be recognised for years hence”.

3. Those that do seek to glamorise or exaggerate the qualities of their subject are simply a branch of advertising photography and that is a legitimate use of the medium (that photography can be put to better use there is no doubt, but advertising is nevertheless a legal and valid branch of the medium providing employment for its product).

Connor (2000) traces the development of postcards back to the Factory Act 1802, directing that child labourers should receive a basic education, thus raising the level of literacy in the UK, paralleled by similar measures elsewhere in the industrialised world. This, combined with the movement from rural to urban employment arising from industrialisation and mechanisation gradually increased levels of communication by post which rose quickly after the introduction of the Penny Post in 1840.
Although there were precursors, the standard postcard was invented in 1869 by Dr. Emmanuel Hermann, who persuaded the Austrian Postal Authorities to accept the design of address and embossed stamp on one side and space for a message on the reverse and this was adopted in the following year in the UK and Switzerland. Originally used for business messages such as order and delivery reminders, the next stages of development were illustrations on one side, then improved printing processes, especially colour printing in Prussia and Saxony (Hatfield, 2018, p.4). The period 1890-1910 is described as “the golden era” (Connor, 2000, p.7) when sales, use and collecting were at their peaks: the First World War changed attitudes to postcards and to all interpersonal mail and while postcards remained popular, there has been a drastic recent decline as social media interactions have replaced them. In 2017, The Guardian reported “the postcard industry is dying” (Haynes), as J Salmon, “[t]he country’s oldest postcard publishers” announced their closure. Haynes quotes Rodney Villiers of printers The Postcard Company, Omagh who states that from 2007, with the growth of social media, they have lost “about 90%” of their business and only survived by moving “into art printing … print[ing] for art galleries and the like”. 

In Tom Phillips view (2000, p.17), “[p]ostcards provide the world’s most complete visual inventory. Few things, people or places have not at some time or other ended up as the subject, or an unwitting or unintentional component, of a postcard”.

My chosen subject for postcards was Newport, Gwent (Monmouthshire until 1974), my birthplace (see Y Filltir Sgwar). I spent the morning of 26th January searching for Newport postcards, mostly on eBay, and found, in addition to my target, many fruitful tangents. I also attended the Gravesend Postcard Fair on 29th January and bought postcards of Newport, North Wales and Eltham Palace, as possible material for Assignment 3.

The images found largely reflect my memories of the place but with some notable omissions. Things that are there include:
1. The memorable Transporter Bridge (a grand-uncle drove the first heavy-duty lorry onto the cradle to test its load-bearing capacity) fig. D1.
2. The largely 1960s civic centre (fig. D2) that, by coincidence, has murals by Hans Feibusch who also decorated St Barnabas church, encountered in I&P Assignment 2 (fig. D3), see Richard Salkeld’s Postcard from Newport (Mon.), 2015.
3. The castle and bridge, near the original location of the Art College that is now apartments.
4. The prosaically-named Commercial Street, fig. D5, the photograph taken near to the location, decades later, of the Branch of Dixons at which Tish Murtha bought her OM1 on credit, £23.95 for 8 months (fig. D6).

More tangential finds, other Newports, both at home and abroad, have been found, pursued, and are shown below in two sections, Reminiscences and Appendix.

Oregon, particularly is a rich seam for diners and motels, the first three found, which inspired this thought, being the Newport Motor Lodge, Gray’s Chicken by the Sea, and The Anchor (“famous for fine sea foods, pan-fried chicken, prime ribs and New York steaks”), not to mention a New-Topographical view of the town.

The world is crying out for the publication of 26 diners and motels in Newport, and work has already begun. [19Dec22] Now complete.

One act of wanton picturesquity was found, a rose tinted version of Belle Vue Park, fig. F1. There are more interesting and honest versions of the park available showing the Transporter Bridge in the distance.

Part 1 – Part 2 – Reminiscences – Appendix

Part 2

Make a brief response (around 200 words ) to Graham Clarke’s comments on ‘privileged observation’ through a creative intervention into one or more of your postcards which in some way disrupts the viewer’s position. You may choose to do this as a montage like Saulter, or by drawing / painting / cutting parts of the postcard. This task can be done digitally or analogue. Post your results to your learning log. Reflect on the intervention you have made and the alternative reading it has given to the landscape. Consider whether it’s possible not to be a ‘tourist’ or ‘outsider’ as the maker of landscape images?

LP&E, p.108

[16Feb] The gaze of the tourist, a symptom of the gaze of empire has been considered elsewhere on this course (see I&P Part 3). Clark is making a general judgment about landscape photography and specifically early photography abroad and the quote continues, “the photographer of landscapes is always the tourist, and invariably the outsider”. Writing about his joint 3-volume work The Photobook (Parr & Badger, 2004-14), Gerry Badger describes how the genre manifests collective tendencies in various periods of history, for example, “nineteenth-century books from Great Britain and France were largely about exploration and discovering the world (in order to ‘acquire’ it), demonstrating the natural impulse of the two great colonial powers” (Badger, 2010, p.221). In addition, Clark (although not writing specifically about postcards) does not consider the other parties involved, the publisher, the vendors and the viewers, all of whom bring their own predispositions to the transaction, each of which adds a layer of complexity and variability to the situation.

My primary conclusion in the first part of this exercise is that most postcards are benign, documentary images. My chosen sample were of local and parochial subjects, mostly from the second half of the twentieth century and perhaps there is less scope for visions of empire in this milieu, and maybe, also, the postcard genre has mellowed its acquisitive nature over time.

A secondary finding from Part 1 is surprise at the range of images available, to the extent that I stated, “[t]he world is crying out for the publication of 26 diners and motels in Newport” and I will curate that as the deliverable from this part of the exercise.

The postcard images chosen for the book may be closer aesthetically to John Schott’s 1973 series showing motels on Route 66, rather than Ruscha’s “artless” images (Badger, 2007) in  Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1962), but it is intended to be a homage to Ruscha’s ground-breaking work.

Once complete, publication will follow the usual route – print and bind five copies, keep one and secrete the others in gallery bookshops for random strangers to find, usually, Tate Modern, Tate Britain, sometimes Margate and wherever else I happen to go. I am buying any reasonably-priced examples of motel postcards that I find with a view to adding a tipped-in example to each book. Most ship from the US and so postage is more costly than the the card itself. I have only one so far (Rm4 18-19, Newport Motor Lodge, Newport, Oregon, 1969), and that will be in my copy.

Building the book

[22Feb] There are currently around 45 postcards eligible for inclusion. What are the criteria to be applied?

  • All are currently from the US. Try to get at least one from every state found.
  • There are some with more than one image. In such cases, two cards might be included.
  • It is preferable to have both sides of the card to show. This is desirable evidentially, aesthetically and would make the book design more straightforward. But it should not prevent inclusion of any particularly fine images.
  • What is to be the format? Initial notion
    • front page just the title. When bound with a cover, tipped in postcard on the inside front cover where stocks allow.
    • title, copyright and introduction on pages 2 and 3
    • image pages in pairs (fig. G1), upper page the photograph, lower page the back of the card, text to include the name of the establishment, town and state, name of the photographer if known, name of the card publisher if known. And a number: if a motel or diner has two cards in the show, the second will be same number, continued — at least one double card is becoming an attractive proposition.
    • this means that the book is to be in ‘landscape format’
    • As regards sequencing, unless there is a clear reason to do otherwise, I favour alphabetical by name, within alphabetical by state (then country if >1). That would suggest a contents page too.
  • back page of the printed matter, to be decided, or if the introduction overruns, the copyright info can go there. And include Ruscha’s business card.
  • Why 26, see https://www.artforum.com/print/199701/edward-ruscha-twentysix-gasoline-stations-1962-32921 Why 26. It is a sufficiently large number to give a representative but not exhaustive sample of this kind of subject. My first thought was that it was, simply, every one he passed (or passed and “liked”) between X and Y, but that’s not it. Start quoting
  • kitchens last page?

Draft Introduction
This book grew from an OCA photography degree course exercise on postcards. Based on a Fay Godwin quote on the failings of picturesque imagery to portray the harsh realities of the countryside, the course material (cite) criticised postcards. I thought the judgment unreasonably harsh: Researching the genre, I concluded that most cards are innocently documentary. Concentrating on my birthplace, Newport Gwent (then “Mon”), I found a large number of postcards for other Newports and for motels and diners in US Newports. And the idea was born for a homage to Ed Ruscha’s Twentysix etc.

The book was completed in December 2022.

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Part 1 – Part 2 – Reminiscences – Appendix


Things that I never knew:
1. Newport Docks, when it was an active port, postcard, unattributed, fig. Rm1-1
2. I know the nearby small hill, Twmbarlwm, visible from the living room of the house I was born in (see Y Filltir Sgwar), and remember a charity walk along the canal tow-path to the top of the hill (c.1967). I was surprised to find a postcard entitled Little Switzerland (fig. Rm1-2) as I never heard it called that. An example of glamorisation perhaps, but by labelling rather than misleading photography.
3. I think I recall there being a lighthouse, but I never saw it, or its image, until this exercise, fig. Rm1-3.

Things that I didn’t find on a postcard:
1. There are postcards of illustrations of the 1839 Chartist Riots (fig. Rm2-1) at the Westgate Hotel (fig. Rm2-2, now Wetherspoons), but none of the Kenneth Budd mural of the event, scandalously demolished despite local protests (Morgan & Cresci, 2013).
2. No cards of the Llanwern steelworks, 1962-2004, although there is a tangential one of the Newport Ironworks in Middlesbrough, Tees Valley.
3. No cards of the old or the new library, museum and art gallery (the latter was once yards from the Budd mural), though there is an early card of a ceramics exhibit (fig. Rm2-3) and the Chartist Riot reproduction (fig. Rm2-1) was published by the Museum.

Many tangents were found and pursued with vigour at Newports in:

Rm3 1-2. the Isle of Wight
3. Newport Iron Works, Middlesbrough
4-5. Newport Pagnell
6. Newport, Hemsby, Norfolk
7-8. Newport Pembrokeshire
9. Newport, Shropshire
10. The Pierhead & Post Office, Newport-on-Tay, Fife

Not to mention, a 1913 Boynton’s Newport iron stove in working kitchen.

and further afield in:

Rm4 1. The Buffalo Ranch, Newport, Orange County, California
2-3. Newport Harbor Community, California,
4-5. Newport Beach, California
6-7. Newport Bay, California
8-9.York Street, Newport, Kentucky
10-11. Main Street, Newport, Maine
12-13. Newport, Nebraska
14-15. Newport House, Newport, New Hampshire
16-17. Colonial Courts Motel, Newport News, Virginia
18-19. Newport Motor Lodge, Newport, Oregon ‡
20-21. Newport Motor Court, Newport, Tennessee
22-23. Newport Beach, Sydney

Part 1 – Part 2 – Reminiscences – Appendix


Supplementary findings, Boxes Apx, are from eBay, Delcampe and HipPostcard.

More of the same, plus a new find, Newport, County Mayo.

Still more.

LPE Exc 3.2 References

Alexander, J, Conroy, A, Hughes, A, & Lundy, G (2019) Landscape, Place and Environment [LPE]. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts.

Badger, G. (2007) The genius of photography. London: Quadrille Publishing.

Badger, G. (2010) The pleasures of good photographs. New York: Aperture Foundation.

Carline, R. (1971) Pictures in the post. London: Lordon Fraser.

Connor, C. (2000) Postcards, a collector’s Guide. London: Miller’s.

Hatfield, PJ. (2018) Canada in the Frame. London: UCL Press.

Haynes, G. (2017) Postcards on the edge as Britain’s oldest publishers signs off [online]. theguardian.com. Available from https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/shortcuts/2017/sep/25/postcards-demise-britains-oldest-publisher-industry-death [Accessed 10 February 2022].

Meades, J. (2021) Pedro and Ricky come again. London: Unbound.

More, A. (2021) Global Postcard Market: Industry Insight, Trends, Size, Share [online]. newschannelnebraska.com. Available from https://rivercountry.newschannelnebraska.com/story/45522092/global-postcard-market-industry-insight-trends-size-share-analysed-from-top-countries-data-forecast-upto-2029 [Accessed 13 February 2022].

Morgan, S. & Cresci, E. (2013) Hundreds protest in Newport over destruction of Chartist mural [online]. walesonline.co.uk. Available from https://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/hundreds-protest-newport-over-destruction-6144046 [Accessed 30 January 2022].

Parr, M. & Badger, G. (2004-2014) The Photobook: A History Volumes I-III. London: Phaidon.

Phillips, T. (2000) The postcard century. London: Thames & Hudson.

Postcrossing (2020) History of postcards [online]. worldpostcardday.com. Available from https://worldpostcardday.com/history [Accessed 13 February 2022].

Salkeld, R. (2015) Postcard from Newport (Mon.) [online]. artandphotography-uog.blogspot.com. Available from http://artandphotography-uog.blogspot.com/2015/06/postcard-from-newport-mon.html [Accessed 30 January 2022].

Willoughby, M (1994) A history of postcards. London: Bracken Books.