Postcards from the earth

I love postcards.


Always have.

Loved when you’d go places with wire racks of postcards on the sidewalk.

The New York State World’s Fair! 

Niagra Falls!

Virginia Beach!

The Thing!!! Can your heart stand it!

My hometown of Catskill, N.Y., about 100 miles north of the city, had kind of a small town upstate summer destination thing going on. Washington Irving had set his Rip Van Winkle and Legend of Sleepy Hollow stories in the area, so there were postcards of Rip and the Headless Horseman and such. Illustrations and bad photographic recreations.


And there were shots from the area at various seasons. And postcards from several decades as well, as somebody would eventually buy those old ones. Shots of the town throughout the years, as well as the long-gone Catskill Mountain House.

Postcards were my medium of choice. They kept it brief. And you could fit a hell of a lot more than folks would expect.

Annoyingly so. And knowing that you’d annoyed someone via mail made it even more enjoyable.

I know I hit a postcard rack the day I arrived in Tucson. I’m certain that’s how folks back home got my new address and were met with the sad reality that, while I’d moved away, the postman might bring evidence of my life beyond at any moment.

Over the years I started collecting them. Windup toys too, but that’s another story. I have shoe boxes of them. People sent hundreds of postcards to me over the years. 

On purpose. 

I am a man of simple pleasures. I enjoy an escalator ride when I’m in the mall. I eat Campbell’s chicken noodle soup when I feel funky, and not the low sodium kind. I drive an old car with the original dust and enough miles to go to the moon and back. I like to sit out in the middle of nowhere in the desert late on summer nights and watch a storm in the distance or see the moonlight creep around the cactus.

But I LOVE postcards.

I love the size of them. I love what they represent. I love how they were co-opted for flyers to sell just about every damned thing known to man. I love the photography. I love the campiness, their sense of nostalgia, their wistfulness and their ability to tell a story. Even when it wasn’t the story they’d been intended to tell.

When I became a performance artist I may have been drinking more than I do now.

My stuff was my take on the world. 

Postcards were a bit part of my early work.

I used to find goofy postcards and type stories on the back of what I imagined the photo showed, rather than its intended postcardly purpose.  The stories ended when I ran out of room on the card.

I’d photograph the image, record the story and write a little piece of soundtrack music to go along with them. With a slide projector, a microphone and a tape deck I’d share surreal stories with my audience, which I suspected may have been in an altered state.

Later on, I started reciting the stories live along with the tape, at a slightly different rhythm to make the words bubble and spin. There was nothing particularly high tech about this, but it added another dimension of odd to the pile.

Sometimes I’d just send the story postcards to people without them ever having been shared with a solitary person other than the recipient. These were special cards for special folks. No word of how I was or anything new. Just a weird story that cut off mid-sentence, as a way of letting them know that things had not improved with me in their absence.

Then at some point I started a bunch of series. Usually I’d grab a fistful of postcards through which I could envision a longer, more cohesive serial story. Some would be five or six long and would arrive anywhere from a few days to a week or more apart. 

One series went on for quite a ways. It was called “The Amazing Adventures of Harold and Sally,” and it was loosely about a couple whose marriage was breaking up during a cross-country trip together. Every stop along the way sparked a huge argument. It was intended to be five or six cards long but it may have gone beyond 20, and may have lasted for months. It also had its serious moments along the way. The postcard medium proved an unlikely avenue for storytelling of that sort.

As a photographer today I find myself going places and thinking about how I might shoot if I were making postcards for the places I travel to. Sometimes I shoot and process the photos in a deliberate way to imitate my memories of those stylized landscapes and landmarks.

At some point I want to make postcards in my own image, and possibly write stories to go with them so you can send pre-written postcards to amuse your friends. Maybe even put together a postcard novel or a selection of short stories.

~ by Daniel Buckley on May 23, 2018.

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