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Monthly Design Review - May 2019

This month's subject is postcards: these seemingly mundane, utilitarian images hold more than meets the eye! They are a great resource for production design research and sometimes are the only records of bygone enviornments.



Thanks to the Private Mailing Card Act of 1898, which allowed private publishers to produce postcards, Americans started to send friends and loved ones stunning color photos. As a result, Photochrom postcards of the Grand Canyon, Manhattan, even Native American settlements started suddenly being sold and sent in vast quantities all around the country. Many of these images were sold by the upstart Detroit Publishing Company.

This stunning book presents rediscovered Photochrom and Photostint postcard images by the Detroit Photographic Company, produced between 1888 and 1924. The pictures are a voyage through peoples, places and time at once. Through more than 600 pages, this sweeping panorama takes us from Native American settlements to New York's Chinatown, from some of the last cowboys to Coney Island's heyday. As luminous now as they were some 120 years ago, these rare and remarkable images that brought America to Americans now bring American's past to our present.

Buy the book here.

To view more postcards by the Detroit Publishing Company, visit NYPL's archives.



This book accompanied an exhibition at the Met a decade ago, which focused on a collection of nine thousand picture postcards amassed and classified by the famous American photographer Walker Evans.

What appealed to Evans, even as a boy, were the vernacular subjects, the unvarnished, "artless" quality of the pictures and the generic, uninflected, mostly frontal style that he later would borrow for his own work. This volume demonstrates that the picture postcard articulated a powerful strain of indigenous American realism that directly influenced Evans' artistic development.

Buy the book here.

Browse exhibition items on the museum's website.


THE POSTCARD CENTURY (by Tom Phillips, 2000)

This book tells the story of the 20th century using images and messages from 2000 picture postcards, organized chronologically by year. Artist and avid collector Tom Phillips sees postcards as invaluable windows onto changing attitudes and tastes, and he describes this assemblage of primarily British and American postcards as a "composite illustrated diary in which nearly 2000 people have made their entries."

Buy the book here.


POSTCARDS FROM AFRICA - Photographers of the Colonial Era (Boston Museum of Fine Arts, 2018)

During the global postcard craze of the early1900s, photographers in Africa grasped the opportunity to serve a lucrative market for images of the continent, both locally and worldwide. Their picture postcards now contribute to understanding political, social, and cultural changes in Africa, as the rise of the new medium coincided with the expansion and consolidation of colonial rule.

The book reproduces a significant selection of rare and familiar cards — the majority drawn from the extensive Leonard A. Lauder Postcard Archive at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston — accompanied by a leading scholar’s exploration of the complex stories they tell.

Buy the book here.


BORING POSTCARDS - (by Martin Parr, 2004)

Martin Parr is a key figure in the world of photography and contemporary art, recognized for his wit and irony in dealing with such subjects as bad taste, food, the tourist, shopping and the foibles of the British. Parr has been collecting postcards for 20 years, and this book presents the most boring ones. All shot in Britain, the book is a boring tour of its motorways, ring roads, traffic interchanges, bus stations, pedestrian precincts, factories, housing estates, airports, caravan sites, convalescent homes and shopping centres. Some attempt to idealize their subjects, only to fail dismally. Others lack any apparent purpose or interest, but the resultant collection of photographic images is wholly compelling.

Boring Postcards is multi-layered: a commentary on British architecture, social life and identity, a record of a folk photography which is today being appropriated by the most fashionable photographers, an exercise in sublime minimalism and, above all, a richly comic photographic entertainment.

Purchase the book here.

Purchase the book's American counterpart - "Boring Postcards USA" - here.


THE WORLD EXISTS TO BE PUT ON A POSTCARDS: Artists' postcards from 1960 to now

(7 February – 4 August 2019, British Museum, London)

Artists have subverted the common postcard for decades. While the artists’ postcard began as a child of the Conceptual and Fluxus movements of the 1960s, it quickly broadened as an artistic medium to highlight political and social issues, such as feminism, anti-war protest and the fight against AIDS.

In this, the first major museum display of artists’ postcards, discover both the politics and playfulness of this unique collection of 300 postcards recently gifted to the British Museum by the artists’ postcard expert Jeremy Cooper - ranging from feminist artists such as Lynda Benglis and Hannah Wilke, to Yoko Ono and John Lennon’s anti-Vietnam War is Over postcard and the original invitation to Andy Warhol’s Holy Cow! Silver Clouds!! Holy Cow! exhibition.

Visit the Exhibition.

Buy the catalogue here.

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