3.2 Postcard Views

Task:

1. Gather a selection of postcards (6-12) that you’ve either bought yourself or received from other people. If you don’t have any, then try to 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.

“I am wary of picturesque pictures. I get satiated with looking at postcards in local newsagents and at the picture books that are on sale, many of which don’t bear any relation to my own experience of the place… The problem for me about these picturesque pictures, which proliferate all over the place, is that they are a very soft warm blanket of sentiment, which covers everybody’s idea about the countryside… It idealises the country in a very unreal way.” (Fay Godwin)

It is now quite some time since I received or sent postcards – most things these days are done by Facebook posts. I looked for postcards in East Anglia seaside towns like Aldeburgh but most were art postcards, no photographs. Even in Cambridge it is difficult to get ‘straight’ postcards. Most are tinted or artist drawings. I feel the traditional postcard is probably going out of fashion with technological change. On the Internet search for ‘postcards’ shows many sites where you can send off your own photos and get them produced as cards – this seems to be the growing trend. The other trend of for vintage postcards and art postcards.

In the end I resorted to a simple search for Google images of some places I am familiar with on the Norfolk and Suffolk coast.

Hunstanton postcards

I find these very tame and boring – the place itself is breezy with salt spray in your face, sounds of seagulls that eat your fish and chips chips, a very poignant out-of-season wrapped up feel on its fun fare and Seaworld, crashing waves against the sea defences and amazing light. It is one of the few places on the East Anglia coast that face West where you can see a sunset, and is also a place famous for seeing a sky full of geese flying to roost or migrating. But nothing of this was in the postcards. They mostly just showed:

These images are not really ‘picturesque’ in Gilpin’s sense, more just promotion of seaside holidays. The pictures of castles are generally full frontal, with very little photographic artistry. Maybe imitating snapshots that holiday-makers themselves might take.

Below are a selection of my own mixed ‘picturesque’ and social documentary images taken in early January out of season. I find these out of season images capture more of the spirit of the place – the light and long shadows, the way people enjoy themselves even when it is cold.

Some other out of season images of Snettisham just down the coast. These are not picturesque – many are purposely underexposed – but do echo my memories of the place. This is possibly because of my memories of taking them – the act of taking images alters perception and memory itself.

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Aldeburgh in Suffolk

This resort is better portrayed with rather more imagination – maybe because tourists there are rather more upmarket and it is a centre for art shops for the London weekend getaways with money – but still rather tame. Many of the street scenes use a very wide angle lens and leave out the traffic and parked cars – the streets are rarely that quiet.

Cyclists walking in front of shop

Fish and chip shop (very famous this one)

Street view

Some of what I consider to be the more interesting cards include:

a  composite with different shaped and sized images of some of the major landmarks

set of panoramas of different views from the seafront looking towards the town

narrow panorama of the seafront houses

narrow panorama of the tower

 the pier

distant town view from the far beach.

These cards do capture something of the light, the colour of the Dutch/Norfolk style houses as they look in the sunshine, the dramatic cloud forms (although the blue is too saturated) and the movement in the waves. These are more ‘picturesque’. What they fail to capture is the energy of the place and the people – all the children walking along the top of the sea wall, the different fashions people wear, the scrabble for parking in town (though plenty outside along the shoreline). They also fail to capture the drama of the windy cold days with people still enjoying a bracing walk on the shingle beach. And there is absolutely no social commentary – the parties of the rich with drunken and exclusive guests spilling out onto the streets from their holiday cottages.

Below are some of my own more ‘picturesque images’ – I also have not so far dared to take pictures of drunken aristocracy. These for me capture more of the feel of the place – though many were taken with an old i-Phone and are not completely sharp.

2. Write a brief response (around 200 words) to Graham Clarke’s comments above. Do you think it’s possible not to be a ‘tourist’ or ‘outsider’ as the maker of landscape images?

“…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.”

Graham Clark (1997 p73)

In its conventional sense as a noun, the land is inanimate space though it may have life in it – so the photographer is inevitably apart as an observer in the way they are not necessarily with documentary or street photography where the subjects of the photograph may participate in determining the meaning .If one takes ‘landscape’ as a verb and not a noun – an act of slicing parcels of space and thereby giving them some meaning – then also the photographer is always in some sense an observer and hence ‘outside’.

But an observer is not necessarily superficial, privileged, a disinterested tourist or portraying land as spectacle for pleasure. Much depends on the intention of the photographer, their understanding of the complexities of the space they are ‘landscaping’ and the intended audience or market for the images. People may photograph the environment in which they live, or serve as a voice for other people living in the landscape – they are then less of an  outsider. Many photographers have also acted as advocates for preservation or restoration of landscapes devastated by commercial or other human exploitation – those images are far from pleasurable. Technically it is possible to select the content and composition, include even parts of the photographer’s body in the image, to increase the feeling of immersion and involvement. If the intended audience or market for the images is looking not for pleasure or commercial attraction, but to be informed of issues in the landscape/landscaping and the forces that shape it then the photographer often does in-depth research akin to documentary to select the images and meanings to communicate.

 

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