Folk Photography: The American Real-Photo Postcard, 1905-1930

Overview

The postcard craze that swept the United States in the early 20th century coincided with the spread of pocket cameras and led to the phenomenon of real-photo postcards, so called because they were mostly made by small-town amateur and professional photographers and printed in their darkrooms, usually in quantities of less than a hundred (unlike the contemporary mass-produced photolithographs). Real-photo postcards were typically produced in small, often isolated towns whose citizens felt an urgent need to ...

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Overview

The postcard craze that swept the United States in the early 20th century coincided with the spread of pocket cameras and led to the phenomenon of real-photo postcards, so called because they were mostly made by small-town amateur and professional photographers and printed in their darkrooms, usually in quantities of less than a hundred (unlike the contemporary mass-produced photolithographs). Real-photo postcards were typically produced in small, often isolated towns whose citizens felt an urgent need to communicate with distant friends. The cards document everything about their time and place, from intimate matters to events that qualified as news. They depict people from every station of life engaged in the panorama of human activities — eating, sleeping, labor, worship, animal husbandry, amateur theatrics, barn raising, spirit rapping, dissolution, riot, disaster, death. The phenomenon began in 1905 and peaked in the 1910s, when many millions of real-photo postcards were mailed each year. Previous books have been content to display these cards for their socio-historical or nostalgia value; this book goes much further. The 122 postcards it reproduces cover the entire field of the cards' subject matter, but Luc Sante illuminates them with the penetrating, stimulating analysis expected from a writer hailed as "a singular historian and philosopher of American experience." Sante wants us to see the images not simply as depictions of a vanished way of life, but as a crucial stage in the evolution of photography, possessing a blunt, head-on style that inherits something of the Civil War photographers' plain aesthetic yet also anticipates the work of Walker Evans and other great documentary artists of the 1930s. Combining all his gifts as a chronicler of early 20th-century America, a historian of photography, and a brilliant critic, Sante shows how real-photo postcards offer a revealing "self-portrait of the American nation."

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781891241550
  • Publisher: Verse Chorus Press
  • Publication date: 11/1/2010
  • Pages: 160
  • Product dimensions: 8.60 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Luc Sante's books include Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York, Evidence, The Factory of Facts, and Kill All Your Darlings: Pieces 1990-2005. He is a frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books and has written about books, movies, art, photography, and music for many other periodicals. Sante has received a Whiting Writer's Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a Grammy (for album notes). He lives in Ulster County, New York, and teaches photography at Bard College.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 19, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Nostalgia and Frozen Histories

    Luc Sante in FOLK PHOTOGRAPHY: The American Real-Photo Postcard 1905-1930 brings to our attention, or rather reminds us - for how many of us have cloistered these old postcards handed down to us from our ancestors only to leave them tucked away in 'boxes to be discarded/kept' - of a pastime from the early part of the last century when photos of the family or of interesting moments recorded during vacations or simply from daily lives were taken to a shop where they could be made into postcards to mail for very little money to lucky recipients. This craze was world wide, but Sante has focused on American made postcards, and because of that he dredges up on the pages of this very well designed book some 100 photographs on postcards that survey the spectrum of topics that amateurs felt made interesting (and at times newsworthy) messages to family members dispersed across the country. The variation in imagery is tremendous: a simple portrait of a plumber holding a toilet and tools, strange locations for animals as in pigs on a sidewalk, obviously staged scenes with cutout props as in 'Paper Moon', religious acts, fires and their management by the local firemen, still lifes of death (photographic reliquaries) such as images of the deceased laid to rest in coffins, etc. The emotions these images touch are the spectrum of human interest, from humor to devastation. But it seems that Luc Sante is less interested in the recalling of these times than he is in substantiating these postcards as an important hiatus in the history of photographic art that began with the invention of the camera, then passed to the accessibility of this recorder of human events to the common people, to becoming a means of studying the development of America's progress into and within the industrial age. The book remains entertaining to those who are enchanted with memorabilia, but it also becomes a strong document for studying American history as told by those who lived it. This is an inspiring book, but it also is an important resource for looking back and seeing how we all developed as a people. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp

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