“When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.” ― Ansel Adams
The contrasty graphicacy of Edwardian photographic postcards make them seem beguilingly honest and unmediated historical records of the way things were at the moment the image occurred.
But of course that’s not true at all, postcard/photographs tell tall-stories or at best partial stories, the result of a shutter firing and an alchemical process.
Postcards are a parred-back palimpsest of the world(s) they purport to represent. No animation, no sound or smell they’re an muted version of an animated, noisy and technicolour world, that leave us – the viewer – to fill in the silence. Abhorring a vacuum we rise to the challenge and connect the dots and fill in the blanks with our own stories.
What do you see in the postcard image below? Does it matter if you know the place or whether it has a personal relevance or not? I doubt it. Because our hungry minds inevitably bridge the gaps through finding our own connections, imagination weaves it’s magic and we build a personal narrative. No matter how surreal or tenuous the association our own story grows…
I sat on the stone steps of the cross this month – my children climbed the steps – the pigeon loft of the pub is converted to a pool room – I once walked down the lane dressed as a nurse in stilettos – and was punched on the nose and ran blurred with tears and the blood gushing – on a stone floor of a cottage I’ve fallen asleep listening to the soothing sounds of a stream passing not 12 inches below me – they dance around the cross each New Years Eve – my mum lives in the village – my great grandmother once did too, and for all I know my family have done so for generations…
Does any of that affect your story, well no, not a jot. What’s powerful, humane and democratic about these most accessible and public of images, like the very best ‘high’ art, is they have the ability to affect us all. They are a powerful prompt to imaginative action. It’s an unconscious reflex thing, we just can’t help telling a story.
“A picture is a secret about a secret, the more it tells you the less you know.” ― Diane Arbus