Thursday, May 03, 2012

The vanishing postcard

I love postcards.  Time was, if you were going anywhere interesting at all, you'd pick up some postcard stamps and mail a postcard back to your loved ones to let them know how your trip was going; it was like a miniature journal of your experience.  With the rise of email and social media, where everything gets delivered instantly no matter where on Earth you are, the picture postcard seems to be a dying form of communication.  But there's something about a real postcard that just can't be duplicated with electronic media.

Tsudumi-no-ne, Uemura Shōen, 1940.
I'm fascinated by the complete communication package of the postcard, which isn't limited to the message people choose to write on the back (ranging from silly to cryptic to tragic to elated), but also includes the images people choose for the fronts of their postcards, and the stamps they pick to send the message on its way.

Fashion illustration card by Izak Zenou, 2011.
There's a reason why the Griffin and Sabine series by Nick Bantock was so compelling -- it wasn't just because of the storyline, which was interesting, but the means by which the story was told: reproductions of the postcards and letters sent back and forth between the protagonists, complete with dirt, smudges, postmarks, ink blots, and the other detritus of mailed correspondence.

"Relieved time" Japanese postcard with Engrish commentary
In some ways, postcard art is like the artwork of another vanishing medium: the LP record sleeve.  Just as the standard 12.375" square of the LP sleeve provided a wonderful blank canvas for many graphic designers (including my dad, who designed several album covers for Concord Jazz back in the '70s), printers have used the basic postcard shape to create and reproduce all kinds of art, advertising, found images, and spectacles beyond belief.

The Postcrossing website is a great place for postcard junkies around the world to get their fix.  The concept is simple: send a postcard to a random stranger, get a postcard from another random stranger.  I've received postcards that run the gamut from the sublime to the ridiculous, and I love just about all of them.  The creativity and thoughtfulness so often on display, in a postcard that's meant to be sent to a person the sender has never met and probably never will meet, tends to restore your faith in the basic goodness of humanity.

If you're into the more aesthetic side of the equation, you might take an interest in mail art, the practice of sending artful and/or whimsical objects through one or more postal systems.  Postsecret (warning: some entries NSFW) might be thought of as an ongoing intersection between mail art and the share-too-much quality of social media.  And if you've got a yen for the cheesy and campy, check out Bad Postcards.

Seattle, Washington Scenes Montage, Lantern Press, 2009.
By the way, if you're in western Washington and looking for postcards, drop me a line; I don't sell postcards myself, but I can provide some helpful hints on where to find them, depending on what you're seeking.  And if you want me to send you a postcard, you have but to ask.  I've got gobs of 'em!

P.S. Love making postcards? You might enjoy participating in Wish I Were Here.


Tara Chang said...

I have a large stash of postcards as well. Don't send them often anymore, which I agree is sad. I *do* enjoy receiving them from vacationing friends and family (and you are always very good at sending!) and really ought to make more of an effort to return the favor.

In the past I have set aside some Sunday afternoon time to write and mail a few postcards for fun. When I can actually write with this hand again, I should probably start that up once more.

Thanks for the push!

Soozcat said...

Oh, Tara, I hope your hand is healing well. I want to bring by a Little Something for you, and things keep coming up. Must start running errands in the middle of the night again... it's the only way to ensure things get done!