The collection is growing...
Hello! If you're paying attention to the dates on our blog posts, I wouldn't hold it against you if you assumed The Postcard Collective has stalled, or even stopped entirely. Not the case!
We're still here. We're still making postcards. Most importantly, we're still finding new ways to promote creativity through the postal service.
New things are on the horizon. Watch out!
- I stumbled into a parallel universe and spent the last four weeks finding a way back.
- Gremlins in my computer had a month-long party and refused to post the call.
- What call for entries?
Actually, it was a deliberate choice to push this one back. Why, you ask?
Three letters (or four words, if you prefer): SPE.
In case you haven't heard the news, we'll be giving a panel discussion at next week's national Society for Photographic Education conference. It's called Make, Stamp, Ship, Receive: Four Years with the Postcard Collective. We're scheduled for 1pm-2:45pm in Keys 3-4 on Friday; if you're attending the conference, come by and say "hello". We'll have lots of these fancy postcards (see below) for you to take home and/or send to friends colleagues, loved ones, or complete strangers.
Now, what does all this have to do with the call for entries? Upon examination of our annual schedule, you'll notice that the call for Spring exchange entries typically ends on March 1st. Since our SPE panel is scheduled for March 7th, the folks in the audience would have to wait until May to enter. I don't know about you, but I'd likely forget about my excitement over the course of two months. Put simply, we wanted to provide SPE conference goers the opportunity to be considered for participation in the Spring 2014 exchange.
The exchange will still happen on May 1st.
Having said all that, go fill out our entry form for the Spring 2014 Exchange!
Today, I received a postcard in "hommage à Ben Vautier." The piece was The Postman's Choice from Flux Year Box 2 and the man who sent it resides in Berlin. It was fitting because my most recent submission to the Postcard Collective comments on Mail Art subversion and it is a path I would like to continue to pursue. This post provides that inspiration.
In "The Assault on Culture: Mail Art," Stuart Home writes: "Individual Fluxists also dreamed up methods of subverting the postal system and increasing the involvement of postal workers in their mailings. The best known example of this is the Ben Vautier postcard "The Postman's Choice" (1965). This was printed identically on both sides with lines ruled out for different addresses and space for a stamp. It was left to chance and the postal authorities to decide which of the two possible addresses it should be delivered to."
It was easy to see why the post office delivered it to me due the location of the address on the card above. I feel badly that Jack Saunders was not able to participate in this action (or be a recipient) and I cannot help but think that should be remedied.
[Full disclosure: The author and the interviewee have more than transformative experiences through their love of birds and participation in the Postcard Collective in common. Together they have visited Maine twice (though the author has no recollection of seeing the Swainson's Thrush), camped in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and spent numerous hours discussing their respective artwork. ]
The first time I saw Hannah Barnes draw a bird was on a napkin at a local bar. They have since appeared on many birthday cards and even an abstract rendition in one of her paintings (that I meticulously searched her website for and could not find). Despite knowing Hannah for the last seven years, I learned so much more about her working process and influences through this interview. There is nothing like a formal structure to better understand someone's artwork you think you knew well.
Jacinda Russell: Tell me about your relationship with birds as they have appeared on and off in your artwork and are featured prominently in both your entries for the Postcard Collective.
Hannah Barnes: I would consider myself a novice birder at best. I don’t know very much about birds, but I do credit them for some of my most profound moments in the wilderness. They have been adept at teaching me how to pay attention. Trying to pick out a tiny yellow warbler high up among a dense mass of leaves, patiently, without moving, with one’s senses fully open – this sort of ‘present-moment awareness’ is profound and transformative.
Both of my grandfathers are amateur birders, but I knew little about birds until I moved to Maine and had the opportunity to spend time in the wilderness. The first bird I learned about was the Swainson’s Thrush. It’s a small, unremarkable looking brown bird that is very difficult to spot, as it blends in very well with its habitat. Although it isn’t much to look at, the thrush has a distinctive musical, flute-like call, considered by some birders to be the most beautiful of all birdsongs. It can be heard throughout the summer in the wooded areas of Maine. I think the thrush somehow sneakily ‘throws’ its voice, because although it spends most of its time hopping along the forest floor, its song always seems to be coming from the overhead canopy.
JR: You are one of the few people that have submitted postcards that incorporate interactivity as the main means of expression. A story is unveiled at the turn of a dial resulting in a cyclical presentation where the viewer decides where it must end or begin. What is your interest in this format?
HB: Part of what excites me about the Postcard Collective is the format itself. These days, it seems the postcard, like most hand-mailed correspondence, is becoming an increasingly antiquated form of communication (evidenced by the fact that in 2011, the USPS nearly went through with a plan to close more than 3,700 struggling branches). I feel mournful about this because when I was a teenager, letter writing was my favorite way to communicate with my friends. I even had an Australian pen-pal. I loved writing and receiving letters and postcards; I spent hours crafting envelopes from scratch, embellishing them with elaborate text, and filling them with mementos, letters, and drawings. When I first approached creating an artist postcard for the Collective, my natural instinct was to channel these qualities of handicraft and personal exchange.
The simple interactive, handmade format of my cards reminds me of objects and sentiments from a bygone era, much like the postcard itself. The turning paper wheel I’ve used in my past cards is a simple mechanism that offers a narrative ‘page-turning,’ ah-hah/surprise device, as well as an element of play, novelty, and interactivity. As a kid, I loved simple interactive wooden and paper games and toys like Jacob’s ladders, jigsaw puzzles, origami, and pop-up books; the moving-part card works (I hope) in a similar way.
JR: These are sad anecdotes in which humans kill birds maliciously or unintentionally. You conceal their deaths until the last few words spin visibly in the opening. There is excitement in turning the dial (as an element of play) yet the content contradicts this action. Ultimately, I am left despising the people that would kill an animal in these ways. What would you like the viewer to take from this and why was it important to make two postcards that drive these points home?
HB: Birds seem to have so much to tell us about ourselves, and about our planet. We have seen numerous species become extinct in modern history – over 190 since 1500. Many of these extinctions can be attributed directly to human activity – our arrogance toward other species, our disregard for nature, and our failure or refusal to understand its laws of interdependence. I suspect that if we could pay more attention to them, birds would have many answers for us about how and where we are going wrong as humans. Rachel Carson’s research revealed how eagles and falcons were being pushed to the brink of extinction as a result of pesticide use; yet decades later, pesticides continue to be responsible for problems in human health and the environment.
I suppose that’s what my postcards, which recollect true stories, are about. They convey the hubris of our species and our failure to listen to one of nature’s most vocal harbingers. My first postcard tells a story of 100 tropical canaries left to freeze in in the cold on inauguration day. I think the symbolism is profound. I’d like to keep doing tragic bird stories as long as I can find them. As for the interactive element, I’m fond of how the reader/viewer is in charge of turning the wheel – it’s as if the card asks each recipient to acknowledge his or her part in the unfolding of the story.
JR: Artists that submit work that varies radically from their normal practice intrigue me. As an abstract painter and drawer you are producing postcards that are straightforward representations inspired by early 20th century drawing and typology. Is this departure a reprieve from your traditional method of working or do you feel it coincides with previous work but seen through a different medium?
HB: I love working with abstraction, but my main artistic practice is fairly disciplined, formal, and not at all narrative. It’s really fun to have an outlet for other ideas that don’t make it into my primary work, such as nature and storytelling. There are, however, one or two crossovers. For example, I’ve always had a love for the decorative, the ornate, and the handmade, and ornament and pattern have been frequent themes in my abstract paintings and drawings. In the past, I’ve created a couple pieces that have taken inspiration from sources such as Victorian cut paper crafts and traditional Shaker gift drawings. It’s a natural impulse to incorporate these qualities as design elements in the postcards.
As for the ‘vintage’ typography and style of imagery, this comes from my interest in antique postcards. The antique malls that litter the Midwest are teeming with boxes of vintage and antique cards, and it’s fascinating to sift through them. My favorite finds are the overly ornate specimens – often embossed, gilded, hand colored, and embellished with decorative frames and flourishes. I also love finding used cards with personal notes and addresses on the backs – relics of a time when fine penmanship was prized and correspondence was all about etiquette and style.
JR: You have revealed that all of your postcards will feature interactive components. Any hints for what is on the horizon?
HB: In the future, I’d like to rely a bit less on text and more on the forms, pictures, and the movements of the card itself to tell my stories. I ran into some technical challenges with the last postcard I created; it prompted me to brush up on my craftsmanship and do more investigation into traditional paper-crafting techniques. I hope to feature some more elaborate cuts and pop-up elements in future cards, while keeping simplicity of design so that each card can still be cut and assembled by hand.
Daniel Marchand is one of the of the Postcard Collective’s most ardent participants. His images exude a sense of calm in a harsh climate and beauty in destruction (whether it is natural or human made). He walks through the countryside and the cities, elevating the commonplace and shedding new light on what is easily overlooked. This fall, I quizzed Daniel on his extensive number of submissions and here is some insight to his creative process.
Jacinda Russell: So much of your work indicates walking and taking note of your surroundings. Sometimes I think you are a street photographer and other times, you photograph in the manner of Lee Friedlander (specifically his relationship to the landscape). Who are your influences?
Daniel Marchand: I have always been an avid walker. As a child, I walked to school every day, regardless of the weather, even during the most severe of snowstorms. When I visit new places, I walk to discover them. When I first visited Beirut just after the civil war in 1994, I walked back to my hotel (a one hour walk) after dinner at around midnight to get a better feel of the city. This may have been crazy, but I still have memories of what I saw then. So I guess walking has made me more aware of my environment and has in some way influenced how I see and by extension how I photograph.
I could not however single out one photographer who would have had a marking influence on me. When I see a landscape, I cannot but think of Ansel Adams for the skies, but I am also very much drawn to the work of Ed Burtynsky. My landscape work is probably a mix of both styles.
Many viewers of my work have pointed out to me that there is a definite cinematic influence. This could be explained by the fact that I was attracted to cinema at a very young age. My first attempt at conceiving a scenario and starting to shoot at 18 was never completed when a close friend who was portraying the main character died in a tragic accident.