Real Photo Postcard Survey

Real Photo Postcard Survey Project, July 2010.

“Real Photo Postcard Survey Project” installation view, Portrait Society Gallery, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, July 2010

Real Photo Postcard Survey (2008-2012)

Deliberately posed postcard format studio portraits encapsulate an ephemeral performance of self. More than 200 people have made the journey to our studio i downtown Manitowoc, Wisconsin, to stand on the black tape line.

View images on Flickr

Visit project blog on Blogspot

View Portrait Society Opening 7.23.2010 video on YouTube

Read The Online Photographer 9.11.2010 review by Mike Johnston



Essay by J. Shimon & J. Lindemann (2012)

We started the postcard portrait project in July 2008 by photographing random visitors to our downtown Manitowoc studio. The people who visited were most often students or other artists passing through the area and usually clad in t-shirts and jeans, which gave the portraits a casual off-the street quality.

With each portrait, we tested lighting, film, optics, shutters, film holder construction, developers or printing methods. We’d expose only 2 sheets of film with the results being uncertain on every level. At first we used a decommissioned New York Police Department view camera with vintage wooden postcard format film holders purchased on eBay.

Eventually we mailed people their palladium postcard portrait if it turned out. With the nomadic quality of life we often had an email address but not a mailing address. We liked the idea of the postcard print migrating to the person’s specific geographic location after being stamped, imprinted, manipulated and scuffed by postal machines. The USPS counter person at the Manitowoc post office told us each piece of mail passes through up to 60 machine operations. Each postcard is delivered by an unknown postal-worker. Their ultimate destiny is uncertain. Mail Art in a time when the mail itself seems like a doomed information delivery system.

The project pays homage to the “real photo postcard” – a way for isolated people in small Midwest towns to show-and-tell something about their existence to family and friends in far-away places a century ago via the mail. Mail was delivered several times a day and a postcard was an easy way to dispatch a message within the city, to the next town or across the country.

The telephone was just getting started. Thus the post office provided the earliest and most accessible “efficient communication network” bringing information quick-and-easy to rural areas. Real photo postcards were cheaper versions of the cabinet card portrait usually mounted on a highly decorated rigid paperboard material. The postcard provided a brief line of news and a photograph, a format that continues to this day in the guise of FaceBook and the culture of sharing mania now part of everyday life. A photograph on the frontside with a personalized, handwritten message on the backside could be mailed for a penny. Postcards traversed space and time more efficiently than any other communication technology of the period. We stood beside our camera accepting the eventuality that we too, like the 100 year old nameless people in photo postcards and their photographers, shall pass into anonymity…


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