A Postcard Interrupted

Since I was a very young boy, I have been travelling to major sightseeing destinations around the world, mostly in Europe, but also in North America and Asia.  Instead of making my own photographs, I bought postcards, because I knew that those that make postcards wait for the perfect weather, the perfect clouds, the perfect light and the perfect scene that represents the city, palace, church or temple.  Usually these postcards are in colour.  They are a standard size, and either in a vertical or horizontal format. 

Postcards rarely show any people.  I guess, people tend to place the photograph in time, and place due to the clothing that people wear, the haircut, or the handbag.  This would impact the longevity of the card and reduce sales!  Photographers also avoid cars for the same reason, as a particular model will tell the person looking at the photograph when the photograph would have been taken.  As such, most photographs have no people in them, no cars and try to be as timeless as possible.  In short, you sell more postcards if the image is perfect and there are no references to time.  These photographic postcards survive year after year on custom metal stands that are rolled out every morning, and returned inside every night.  But are they not dead?

I have always looked at these photographs as impossible.  How do you get the light to be perfect, the clouds just so, with no people around and no indication of the year, month or day the photograph was taken?  Of course this has gotten easier with time, as software now can remove undesired elements, but when I was a kid, I am sure the photographers waited for months for just the right circumstances.

Harbel: Piazza Navona

To me, these photographs are interesting, but not real… or at least they seem impossible.  I have over the years been fortunate to spend extended periods of time in several major cities and have wondered what might be possible.  I still stand confused and in disbelief.  If the clouds are right, the angle of the sun is not.  If the angle of the sun and the clouds are right, then an irritating delivery van is parked in the wrong place, or a flock of tourists wonder across my frame.  A poster advocates for a political candidate, or a poster for a movie.  All are time stamps that just don’t seem to be there in the perfect postcards in front of the tobacco shop.

Harbel: The Papal Apartments

So, what can I do to take iconic images and rethink them?  I thought that perhaps by going to black and white I could maybe do something.  But that has been done before we had colour postcards, more than 120 years ago.  But then it came to me that I could create movement around these well-known places by using a simple instrument.  A bird or two to suggests that there is life in these places, that they are not dead, even though they may be devoid of people.  Is this a new way of seeing?  Surely not, but it is my way of rethinking the standard postcard, and I have been doing it for years.  The confluence of good light, an iconic setting and a bird, or two does not happen often, but sometimes, you can get lucky…..

Harbel: The Taj

Harbel

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