Postcards, in my view, offer their prospective buyers a quintessential, ‘defining’ view of a scene that is usually desirable. These views, for the most part, traditionally have been taken from the ‘best’ viewpoint – that is, the viewpoint most conducive to providing a desirable memento of a place the viewer has presumably been to and wants to keep something to remember it by and/or to impress upon other people. The value these travellers want to impress upon other people (often close relatives or friends) would be the beauty of the place they’ve experienced themselves first-hand to the potential recipient in a form, which is easy to absorb.
In order to better understand the reasons behind postcards’ popularity, I’ve collected a group of several postcards, which I will analyse briefly for their aesthetic merits. The first postcard of Nerja (which I’ve never been to but my sister sent back), depicts a typical postcard view of a beach (Playa Burriana). It uses an horizon in line with the ‘rule of thirds’, which I’ve found makes for an idyllic composition. This is what I feel the main point of a postcard should be from such a beautiful location. To further draw the viewer’s eye closer in, it also uses a few diagonal lead-in lines from the foreground/middle-distance. These include boats, the shoreline and a wooden fence, leading to the shoreline. Meanwhile, the inclusion of some red flowers in the immediate foreground, adds colour depth, which continues further up through the frame, from orange to yellow to green to blue in the distant background. This is not dissimilar from the techniques used in 17th century neo-classical paintings by the likes of Claud Lorrain. Here Lorrain used a technique, where ‘Recession [of depth] is further emphasized by subtle atmospheric perspective achieved through a gradual diminishing of the distinctness of outline and colour from the foreground to the background.’ – (Kitson, 2010, para 9). Lastly, there are people present; all small in the frame; presumably to add a sense of scale to the picturesque scene.
A Tobago Cays (the Grenadines) postcard (also from my sister), is quite similar in terms of compositional devices (diagonal lead-in line of the coast) and also capturing an idyllic view of an island. This time, instead of using people to show scale, the photographer has used yachts, which I feel works just as well. The colours (mainly consisting of blue and green) are very appealing and harmonious, which contributes to this picturesque postcard view. Perhaps the photographer also used a polariser for this photograph as the colours are so vivid and the clouds stand out so much.
A very similar postcard to the Tobago Cays Postcard, this time: Grenada, East Coast (also sent by my sister!), is very similar in terms of mood (idyllic) and colour (harmonious greens and blues) but also includes some interesting compositional elements that I thought I would touch on. These include a tethered white goat, in the immediate foreground – very low in the frame, while the horizon sits unusually high up the frame. I think these two elements help draw the viewer’s eye into the centre, where the viewer is pulled into yet another picturesque scene; just this time not taking up the whole frame (the goat’s placement attracts quite a bit of attention).
Changing to a different theme; from rural to urban, a postcard from Porto (a postcard I actually sent myself for once!); shows a bridge, named Ponte D. Luis I. The colours are completely different, as you might expect, moving from rural to urban like this and consist of vivid oranges and magentas at night, which entice the viewer in. However, this postcard still features a diagonal lead-in line similar to the first two postcards I analysed, which pulls the viewer into the postcard further.
A postcard from Roma (something my brother sent), concentrates on classical architecture similar to the Porto postcard but with more emphasis on the historical buildings, which take centre stage here. The buildings appear very grand (or once grand), perhaps because of their historical significance. The architecture dominates in each of these four mini-photographs making up the postcard; with very minimal greenery included. The use of four important landmarks shows Rome’s heritage and in the process gives an idea of what Rome is famous for. This, I felt worked well here because the postcard places the four buildings so centrally in each photograph; thus making Rome’s appeal very clear to the viewer.
With a Budapest postcard I received from a friend, there is a lot more variety in the mini-photographs (which total five photographs) than in the Roma one. Buildings are included as well as scenery from various angles including one from an aerial perspective. All the photographs are fairly picturesque in comparison to Roma, which is more majestic, in my opinion. Budapest appeared beautiful from this postcard, which I incidentally hadn’t been able to imagine before receiving the postcard.
This was in contrast to St. Vincent (also from … my sister!), where the four photographs remained varied but returned to the idyllic views and harmonious colours of the Caribbean. The environment looked unspoilt in all four photographs (apart from the tourists in the foreground of the top-right photograph, where tourists were evident, presumably to give some sense of scale). However, the four photographs together didn’t work together for me like the Roma postcard; maybe because the photographs were varied but at the same time very similar in tone and colour.
I preferred the slightly warmer tones in the single photograph postcard of Carriacou (sent from … you guessed it (she travels a lot!). This particular shot was taken from “Petite Martinique” and the single format was just a bit simpler and more effective for me than the four in the St. Vincent postcard. I also admired how the photograph gently lead the eye around the frame; from right to left across the slightly warmer foreground, consisting of rocks and grass, up to the vivid sea and then across the fairly high horizon towards the volcano in the distance.
Even though, I hadn’t been to many of these places, they largely appeared as tranquil and as picturesque as I would imagine them. When I received most postcards from the senders (mostly my sister!), I felt curious to go there myself, which showed the postcards were achieving their desired effect. One reason behind this desire, I deemed, was because of the compositional devices like diagonal lead-in lines, which showed off the setting to their most picturesque ideals. Also, any buildings featured in the postcards (like Roma and Budapest), were conveniently the most majestic or iconic structures in the cities/places. I was surprised by certain postcards’ compositions because they were quite unorthodox, like the Grenada postcard, for example. With the horizon being so high and the goat being so low in the frame, I felt it was quite a bold composition but one that ultimately worked. The reason it worked for me, was it drew the eye in (via goat and horizon) to the centre, where a more conventional postcard was present in the frame.
Kitson, M. (2010). Claude Lorrain | French artist. [online] Encyclopedia Britannica. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Claude-Lorrain [Accessed 6 Sep. 2015].