How Artists and Amateur Photographers Have Used Postcards to Great Creative Effect

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The humble postcard was adored long before anyone imagined they could create their own. So when Eastman Kodak released its Model 3A camera with postcard-sized negatives in 1903, amateurs and professionals alike embraced the new technology, printing snapshots of their families and neighborhoods onto paper. sensitized with a stamp box support. At the beginning of the 20th century, billions of postcards were sent to the United States each year – Eastman Kodak facilitated the manufacture of some of them.

Two exhibitions, open this month and next, will reveal the range of photographic prints on postcard paper produced by both citizen photojournalists and fine artists. André Kertész: Postcards from Paris opens this month at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta after its run at the Art Institute of Chicago. As the first show to focus exclusively on its Post card prints, it will bring together 100 rare photographs by Kertész from European and North American collections. In March, the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) in Boston will open Real Photo Postcards: Images of a Changing Nationfeaturing 300 postcards from the Leonard A. Lauder Archive held at the museum (this is the third exhibit from Lauder’s extensive collection).

To see at the Superior Museum of Art: Mondrian’s pipe and glasses (1926) by André Kertész Estate of André Kertész 2021

Hungarian-born Kertész printed on postcards during his early years in Paris (1925-28), a time when he took different approaches to photography, exchanged prints with new artist friends, and experimented with different styles (such as creating a portrait of someone without showing the actual model). Kertész’s previous exhibitions have spanned his entire decade in Paris, but “it misses the nuances of this exciting [early]period for him,” says Liz Siegel, curator of photography and media at the Art Institute of Chicago, which curated the exhibition. “This exhibition and this catalog propose this period as a distinct and resolutely innovative period.”

During these three years, Kertész composed his photographs more deliberately and tended to collaborate closely with his sitters, who were often friends. The prints are rare, like the real photo postcards from the Lauder collection. “Each impression exists either as a single impression or as a small handful that would circulate strictly among friends and family,” says Siegel. “Or stay with him; he kept everything.

Artists of all kinds have seen postcards as fertile ground for experimentation

Benjamin Weiss, curator

Like Kertész, several fine art photographers also used postcard paper, including Walker Evans, Man Ray, and Germaine Krull. “[They] used postcard stock and postcard size for all the reasons everyone made photo postcards,” says MFA Boston curator Benjamin Weiss, namely for greeting cards and portable reproductions. He adds: “from the start, artists of all kinds have been intrigued by postcards and have seen them as fertile ground for experimentation”. But amateurs and budding professionals have also shown remarkable ingenuity in their everyday compositions, as evidenced by the works brought together in Real Photo Postcardswhether it’s dramatic street scenes or lighthearted images of photographers at work.

Postcard collections typically focus on mass prints, making the Lauder Archive one of the largest institutional holdings of actual photo cards. The images are unique, “[revealing]quieter everyday moments that, without these cards, would have been lost to history,” Lauder writes in the catalog.

André Kertész: Postcards from ParisHigh Museum of Art, Atlanta, February 18-May 29

Real Photo Postcards: Images of a Changing NationMuseum of Fine Arts, Boston, March 12-July 25

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