Printed upon postcards: of picturesque photographic pleasures

photo postcards

The turn of the times and the tides through the trail of human existence might have occurred in many a different means of variation but the transition brought about by changes of the technological has been most striking in their distinctness. Consider any aspect of what constitutes the experience of existing for the human and the reality of this particular revelation would not be lost on anyone. Safe it would therefore be to say that painting a picture of the human world across different stages of its evolution would span as quite a montage of images itself.

This conjuring up of images differently revealing of their essence corresponding to that time in history happens to be a specific feature and one differently interpreted within the medium of photography. First because photography in its very origins itself is essentially modern, being as it an availing of only such times as recent as the 19th century. With not even a full couple of centuries history in residing, this simultaneously artistic and scientific pursuit of humans is indeed viewed through only one part of the entire lens of what commands a holistic understanding of our history.

But secondly and on the other hand of it as well, it still is considerable enough an account in advancement that photography has come to be in through its span of the years. For something deriving its very basis out of considerations in technical and technological aspirations, the way this medium has been made to constantly evolve and elevate its own ‘standards’ in setting is one of striking visibility indeed.

Through this scheme in emerging and evolving, photographs that began out their journey upon metallic plates soon found a sliding into the remarkable folds of versatility of a paper print, opening up therefore a whole wide avenue of possibilities for the world to explore. That it made photographs the ‘portable’ entities that they continue to be alongside other dimensions in expression would be a much important rendition indeed. But it also set the stage for photos to find place on pretty much every possible facet of the world’s presentation. And one particular domain where photographs were made to manifest in all allure of their momentous claim to fond memories happened to be upon a rather aesthetic -and the old school kind of aesthetic- realm of reach and intention.

Postcards had always been a peculiarly charming narrative through which the human being indulged in all fascination their fantasies of the real world. The advent of social media might have downplayed their appeal and they might be losing out faster than ever to the fast pace of the digital world but they still speak of a certain emotion exclusive to them. Particularly and much prominently occurring as nostalgia- an element so integrally intertwined with the assertion of photographs are these pieces of specifically purposed paper, postcards came to be quite a favourable medium for photographs to find representation in.

Self defining in their prominent white border with a certain vibe of the image palpable all through in its evocation, photo postcards are novelty specimens even in their originality. Much like their ‘ordinary’ counterparts though, photo postcards too might be losing out on some of their sheen with the spins in which time is revolving. But they boast still of an allure very specifically accruing only to their identity in emerging as a distinctly defined medium for the captures to covet attention. Making first appearance well within the first of the years hundred of what occurs as the marker of photographic origins would be the very first photo postcards. But it wouldn’t be until the dawn of the 20th century that they would come to be employed much a medium in photographic printing.

When they started out as early as the 1870s itself in France, picture postcards had not really been professional and/ or commercial identities within the realm of photography. But with a remarkable idea floated not long after in 1903 by Kodak, one of the most important players in early photographic history, the prospect of photographs presented as pictures would be rather real realities to hold close to heart indeed.

What Kodak did first in the opening years of the 1900s would be pretty much everything that would dictate the terms for the photo postcards to define their own distinctive destiny. The year of 1903 saw the No. 3A Folding Pocket Kodak camera take over markets. In its specifically conceived idea directed to make possible photograph prints to take over postcard backs, a new craze was fanned indeed by this invention.

The much popular folding offering by Kodak though wasn’t the only one supporting this different avenue in photo printing. With both amateur and professional photographers easily availing of this newer measure in clicking and presenting, the introduction of the No. 3A would be the most remarkable one indeed. Other options still available for the masses to scout this mode of photographic presentation would be other cameras that used still glass photographic plates to produce images that needed to be cropped to fit within the standard postcard dimension. There would even be available sensitised cards on which images could be printed instead so that personal photo postcards would not be a rarity reserved for anyone in particular.

Such already substantial avenues in creating photo postcards would get even more of a fillip in 1907 when it was Kodak again that initiated the idea of what occurs as a real photo postcard. As a service that enabled customers to make a postcard from any picture they took, the company really upped the ante for postcards to find a unique dimension of their existence. With preprinted card backs that allowed postcards to be made directly from negatives, it was all but certain that photo postcards were quite the definite entity that they were envisioned to be. Differing from the ordinary photo printed postcards that employed lithographic or offset printing techniques to produce postcard images would be these legit indeed ‘real’ photo postcards that emerge instead as a continuous-tone photographic image printed on postcard stock.

But way earlier than such development, picture postcards had persisted indeed in their own defining, right from the days when they were first explored by the French. Specifically, it had been bookseller Léon Besnardeau who created the first ever picture postcard, though not of the kind that classified still as being a photo postcard. They were what would occur as in the understanding of ‘representative images’ rather, with no place as well for stamps meaning they couldn’t really be complete entities to be posted as and by themselves. As souvenirs therefore, these picture postcards started their life and in one expression of identity that continues to be standard an image within that fore of its dwelling.

Ironically somehow, picture postcards of that kind had been well developed by that time well within the ambits of what commanded still an identity of the 19th century. So popular in fact had been these souvenired interpretations as photos printed on postcards that led even that period to be dubbed the “golden age” of the photo postcard. Images of the Eiffel Tower dominated of course those years coinciding with its construction as well, as it continues to do today as well perhaps in lesser percentage of circulation but prominent still in the more than often spotting of it.

Of course, these first photo postcards as well as the ones following them for quite long even into the years of the 1900s would assert as only monochromatic images in depiction. Even when color in some streaks of visualisation wouldn’t be considerably removed from the photographic image for much later than the proper advent of photography itself, the more curated techniques of them would still take at least a century for proper gradient and saturation and hues and such other characteristic strokes to settle down upon images. It wouldn’t be until the later count of the 1930s that photo postcards therefore would also be recognised in its glossy gorgeousness outside the greatness of its golden glory.

picture postcards

The age redefining thus the photo postcard image in such exaltation that is what spurred for itself a literal description as a picturesque presentation indeed would set in, much ironically way after its golden period of popular ruling had well passed. With photochromes or color photography prints not being a reliably reputed range for photographs to find imaging in well into the third decade of the 20th century, it would only be obvious that photo postcards as well would have to appear till then strained and drained of the color aspect of the beauty of what was captured.

The year of 1939 then would be landmark indeed a mention for picture postcards, with the very first photochrome postcard manifesting its glossy appeal sometime in that certain counting of the dates. Particularly after the end of the Second World War in 1945, this technological maverick made photo postcards standout in all evidence of aesthetics. Even today when the prevalence of them as a phenomenon has largely fizzled out, it still are these colorful renditions that command most of the attention in their domain of dwelling. Monochromatic photo postcards however continue to be coveted as well, mainly in their vintage value and timeless worth. Either way therefore, be it in color devoid pursuing of nostalgia or vividly depictive images of reality, photo postcards might still be relevant in some way or the other despite their dealing with the dualities of a post ‘human intensive world’.