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Tuesday 16 February 2010

The Joys of Collecting and the Changing Nature of the Postcard

I am not generally a collector of things. I have never been overwhelmed by the power of the object, I guess, what it boils down to is that I’m just not materialistic. Anyway, this past Saturday, I was meant to meet a friend from New York in London (I haven’t seem him since I was 16), and as I was walking in to the train station he phoned to say there had been some delay, and that it would be best to meet up on Monday.

Well, I was all set to go to London, and suddenly found myself with the entire afternoon on my hands with nothing to do. Of course, like any good New Yorker, I headed into town to get a coffee, and figure out what I was going to do next – wow the joys of free time, a very rare thing in my life!

When I looked around the corner, I saw some signs for an Antique Fair, so I thought that I would give it a go. As I said, I’ve never really been a person that interested in collecting (although, I must admit Martin Parr’s show at BALTIC last year, was incredible – his collection is amazing and spans decades of social history and I found it very inspiring).

With great interest I began to observe the objects, and found myself being drawn in to their narratives. Who’s were they? What was their story? Where did they live? How did they live? These were the thoughts that were racing through my mind; suddenly I came across a pile of old postcards.

I am fond of the postcard in the first place. When I lived in Spain and was at university I would always pick up the free postcards and send them to friends and family. Just little notes to say hello, that type of thing. I suppose this was before everyone had an email address. I didn’t set up one until 1999, so because I was a late bloomer with regards to the Internet, I kept sending people postcards – you know little notes to let them know that I was thinking about them, etc.

So, anyway, this pile of old postcards was fantastic. I found one, which was a birthday card, sent in 1918 (the year WWI ended!). The image is incredibly bizarre, a sort of blue sepia with a boy (slightly androgynous) gazing out to the distance. Now, I know methods of photography have changed, but it’s a peculiar image for a birthday card not the usual cake and candles. Although celebrating birthdays is actually a pretty new thing. Hard to imagine, right?

Anyway, what I found so lovely about this was the message on the back, the date, and the stamp. I feel like I captured a tiny moment in time. Now I was to know more, who was Miss W Shiels? Who was Dorothy? I feel inspired. I feel like I’ve got a new hobby on the horizon. I am so interested in this not only from an artistic point of view, but also social history.

I want to start sending postcards again. The postcard has now been reassigned to the holiday message – “Here we are in Prague, having a lovely time. The weather is nice and the food is great.” I want to take the postcard back, turn it into what it used to be, a form of communication with all sorts of sentimentality attached. It was a way of telling someone that you were thinking about them for no particular reason, I guess what I’m saying is that you don’t have to be on holiday to send someone a postcard.

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