In the early 20th century, the popularity of the pocket camera in America led to a wave of DIY postcards. The snapshots depicted anything that the sender wanted to share with remote friends or colleagues, from family snapshots to amateur photojournalism. According to former BB guestblogger Mark Dery
, real-photo postcards "are transmissions from the postmortem Internet," and they definitely have the feel of a visual Tweet shared with one's social network. In the Las Vegas Weekly, Dery reviews a recent book on the topic, Folk Photography: The American Real-Photo Postcard 1905-1930, by Luc Sante, author of the seminal account of New York City's underbelly in the early 1900s, Low Life
. Dery's review of the book makes me want to start collecting Real-Photo Postcards. Me and everyone else, I'm sure. From Dery's essay, titled "Ghost Cards":
In one of those harmonic convergences of popular desire, profit motive, and governmental intervention that punctuate media history, the emergence of the real-photo postcard as the cell-phone snapshot of small-town America was the result of Kodak’s rollout, in 1903, of its cheap, easy-to-use No. 3A Folding Pocket model; the U.S. Postal Service’s introduction, in 1905, of the penny rate for postcards; and the growing penetration of Rural Free Delivery into heartland America.
To Sante, these postcards constitute a “ghost telegraph,” as he told a radio interviewer. In Folk Photography, he writes, “The real-photo card was typically a product of the small town, particularly the small town isolated on the plains, whose newspaper did not have the capacity to reproduce half-tones, and whose lonely citizens felt an urgent need to communicate with absent friends, distant in those days even if they lived only three stops down the railroad line.” Like the blues, field hollers, chain-gang songs and other folkways of Old Weird America, real-photo postcards served as a social network, a kind of Basement Tapes of the backwoods unconscious, reporting local news, memorializing personal tragedies, scrapbooking sentimental moments.
"Ghost cards: Thanks to Folk Photography, at long last, we’ve got mail
" (Las Vegas Weekly)
Folk Photography: The American Real-Photo Postcard 1905-1930 (Amazon)
In 2012, Kim Stanley Robinson published 2312, imagining how the world and its neighbors might look in 300 years, loosely coupled with the seminal Red Mars books, a futuristically pastoral novel about the way that technology can celebrate the glories of nature; in 2015, Robinson followed it up with Aurora, the best book I read that year, which used 2312’s futures to demolish the idea that we can treat space colonization (and other muscular technological projects) as Plan B for climate change — a belief that is very comforting to those who don’t or can’t imagine transforming capitalism into a political system that doesn’t demolish the planet. Now, with New York 2140, Robinson starts to connect the dots between these different futures with a bold, exhilarating story of life in a permanent climate crisis, where most people come together in adversity, but where a small rump of greedy, powerful people get in their way.
Last December, I published my review of Andrew “bunnie” Huang’s astoundingly great book The Hardware Hacker: Adventures in Making and Breaking Hardware — without realizing that the book’s release had been delayed because the published decided to do some very fancy and cool stuff with the printing process.
It’s been fifteen years since the first edition of educator Rosalind Wiseman’s Queen Bees and Wannabes was published; now in its third edition — updated with current, timely material about social media and other fast-moving subjects, as well as reflections from girls who were raised on the techniques in the previous editions — the book is a compassionate, aware, and intensely practical guide to navigating the toxic, gendered lives of young girls in a diverse, politicized world.
All the filters in the world won’t save your smartphone pics from a shaky hand. To really step up your mobile photography game, you’ll need some kind of mount to hold it steady. You could buy a smartphone attachment for a conventional camera tripod, but who wants to carry that kind of gear everywhere they […]
The forced transition from analog to digital TV signals was probably met with relative indifference from people with Netflix subscriptions and the “I don’t even own a TV” snoots. But anyone living in the vast swaths of the country that don’t have guaranteed high-speed internet, broadcast TV is a perfectly valid (and 100% free) way […]
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