Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Evan and the Picture Postcard Fair

Last weekend, in a fit of geeky indulgence, I went to the International Spring Postcard Show followed a few days later by a visit to the Walker Evans and the Picture Postcard show at the Met. The two were obviously related in that they both contained postcard collections, but there were deeper connections. Walker Evans seems to have been a dedicated, if not compulsive, collector. As we learned from Jeff Rosenheim's beautifully presented exhibit (and fabulous book), Evans cataloged his postcards in a detailed and meticulous way. One might have even found his cataloging obsessive until one went to the postcard fair at the New Yorker Hotel in midtown. Dear readers, if you have never been to a postcard fair, I have no words for the combination of library science and pure fetish that you will find there.

I have no doubt that there are millions of different postcards in the world. I have no doubt that collectors need those millions to be divided into sub-categories and sub-sub-categories. But I was astounded by how specific the dealers need to be in order to satisfy the surgically precise desires of their customers. The Evans show left no doubt about the quantity of main categories: geography, parades, cars, factories, hotels, rivers, mountains, medical, military, etc, etc. But I took a perverse pleasure in seeing categories I couldn't have imagined having their own sub-categories. For example: did you know that there are enough postcards of lunatic asylums that they merit their own section? Did you know that there are so many of them them that the "Asylum" section is broken down by state and country! "Excuse me, do have any postcards of Montana asylums? No, no, no, not South Dakota. I only collect Montana asylums".

I have to say, it really did have a kind of sexual fetish kind of vibe. I mean, I think porn vendors and brothels are a few of the other commercial ventures where desire is so parsed out the nth degree. That being said, I am not immune. I went because I have my own little corner of fetishistic photo collecting: pictures of violinists. And sure enough, every vendor I approached asked me straight away what itch needed scratching. When I told them, they pointed me to music>instruments>strings>violins. Violins would always be next to guitars, banjos, harps, accordions, bands, winds, saxophones, etc, etc. I didn't have to waste my time with all those other boring instruments so I could bore right into my little neurocenter dopamine hit with violins. All around me, other collectors (obsessives?) were riffling at lightning speed through their own sub-sub-sub-category of pleasure looking for the contact high of a good find.

I have to say I had a great time. I had intended to spend 2 hours then head over to the New York Photo Festival in Brooklyn. The fair won out and I spent 4 plus hours and quite a few dollars. But even if you're not the obsessive photo geek I am, a visit to a fair like this is well worth the time. There are great examples of photography to be found (sometimes for like $3), an incredible view of a hidden part of society, and a glimpse of the lengths to which humans will go to try to organize the chaos of the world. Check it out.


  1. Postcards are the somewhat secret enclave of the photo-lover, always, so it seems inevitable that you would end up there, riffling through those files.

    The Walker Evans show made me feel "outed," as if my frequent screening of Godard's "Les Carabiniers" to students [together with distributing Susan Sontag's timeless essay referencing same] was not sufficient evidence of my notion that all of the world's visual culture can be handily sorted into a briefcase of post cards...

  2. I know a woman who collects postcards with images of angels.. holding packages.. in their left hands.