I saw the exhibit of some of the cards in this book at the Metropolitan Museum of Art once, and then went back a second time to see the collection again. I became entranced by these wonderful cards, and the way the photographers saw our country in the 1920's and 1930's. So much so, that I went out shooting, looking to reproduce the same style of photography, and then to produce my own postcards, one at a time, to mail to friends. I was hooked. I just had to have this book as both a joy to look at, and as a reference in studying how the photographers of the era worked. If you have any interest in old postcards, then this book will be a must-have for you. Each of the cards in this collection was selected by Walker Evans, and there is a special quality to what he has chosen. This is not just a random collection of old cards. You can spend hours going over each of the cards in this book.
Postcards were the poor man's art and they still are! Vintage postcards are affordable, easily available and (as we learn from this beautiful book) influencial as well. Along with Robert Bogdan's Real Photo Postcard Guide a wonderful introduction to what in these economic times could be your next hobby. Jim Linderman, "Dull Tool Dim Bulb"
This is by far the most comprehensive and informed book I've found on vintage postcards. The Metropolitan Musuem of Art's production has a bounty of beautiful and interesting images, and lots of enlightening text. It is a real pleasure to pore over it for its abundance of information, and an inspiration for further pursuit of my own American vintage postcard collecting. The quality of the book is outstanding and thoughtfully put together. At this price, it is a real value!
Jeff Rosenheim has certainly packed a lot into this interesting book. As well as the four hundred postcards there is a transcript of an Evans lecture given to Yale Uni in 1964, facsimiles of articles he wrote: two for Fortune 1948, 1962 and Architectural Forum 1962, thirteen postcard size prints of his work that MoMA was thinking selling, twenty-seven cards that friends sent to Evans where the front and back are reproduced so you can read the comments of John Cheever, Lee Friedlander, Diane Arbus, Michael Lesy and Helen Levitt amongst others.
I thought the Yale lecture transcript was particular interesting. After a rather rambling start Evans, with the use of a slide-show of cards (twenty-seven of the thirty-three are reproduced here) reveals his thoughts on what he calls the 'Lyric Documentary'. He rather agonized over whether the audience would interpret his love of these cards as a surrender to nostalgia and sentimentally. His passion for such an ordinary medium as the postcard was their simple, straight-on photo style completely devoid of artifice. His own photos reflected this and Rosenheim mentions other creative folk who Evens thought expressed the proper lyrical balance in their work: Eugene Atget; August Sander; Matthew Brady; Helen Levitt and Ben Shahn.
Most of the book is taken up the postcards which Walker Evans arranged in themes, thirty-four are included here. Mostly they are of buildings, street scenes and landscapes. All of them were originally black and white photos then hand colored and printed (in Germany it seems). Looking closely I would say many have been retouched to reduce the size of vehicles and people. Page eighteen has a postcard from 1929 of Morgan City, Louisiana and Evans took the same shot in 1935 but the postcard has no telegraph poles and utility wires, street signs and a bridge in the background. Clearly most the postcards in the book have had an element of re-touching applied to the photos.
Here and there the message and address side of some cards are reproduced and it struck me, looking at the handwriting, that it's a wonder that the cards were delivered to the right address.
This book is over 400 pages, the vast majority of them images of postcards from Walker Evans' personal collection of postcards. These are supremely well reproduced at actual size, and one can indeed enjoy looking at the postcards. But this is not a typical postcard collection (if there is such a thing) - there are very few real photo postcards, for example, and many extremely mundane images of urban buildings and the like (some might be tempted to dismiss it as an enlarged version of "Boring Postcards"). Most postcard collectors tend to focus on one or a few genres, or places, not the seemingly random and disparate set of images represented here.
What marks this as a significant collection, of course, is that it was Walker Evans', and from that perspective it is very interesting. We see something of how the great photographer saw images. Adding to this are Evans' own words, in the form of his three articles published in Fortune magazine (reproduced here in facsimile) but even more so in his 1964 "Lyric Documentary: An illustrated transcript of a lecture ... presented at Yale University", in which he tries to develop a visual poetics of imagery. His Yale audience was unappreciative; he called them "a bunch of Yahoos, in imitation work clothes.... They thought I was there to entertain them and lo and behold I showed some photographs and had them rolling in the aisles with laughter. I was utterly defeated. I took these things seriously and I still do" (p.33).
Being myself both a scholar of visual images and a collector of postcards (and something of a photographer) I really appreciate both his efforts to think through postcard images, and his appreciative eye. Collectors seeking a book on postcards may be disappointed by this one. Those interested in Walker Evans' photography will find only a little here (11 pages of his postcard-format photographs). But readers interested in how we see, how meaning is constructed through the visual, will find here a good deal to think with.