Reality and Mystery

     It has been a little while since we considered the charms of the rppc, or Real Photo Postcard.  This, in case you missed it the first time around, is a sort of homemade postcard: you could make them in your own darkroom at home or you could ask your drugstore, or whoever processed your film, to print the pictures on postcard backs.  These were generally made in very small batches, and can be very rare.

     This, for example, is a postcard with a photograph as its base, but it is NOT an rppc.  It’s an ad for furniture with Formica surfaces, and was manufactured by the thousands by Formica.

     A real rppc (Real Real Photo PostCard?) is personal, like the one at the top of this column, in which someone who apparently believes he is as dapper as he can get is wishing someone the compliments of the season.  There were only as many made as he thought he needed Christmas cards, and this could be the last one that has survived the emissaries of tidiness who like to go through the world destroying what they consider inessential.

     It would be a tragedy if this were the only surviving picture of this young lady reading (or, if she’s in a photography studio, pretending to read an empty photo album provided for the pose.)

     Now, little though I like it, I must point out what the tidy-minded are thinking when they throw things like this away.  See, unless the postcard was actually MAILED, there is almost never any data on it to show where it was taken, when it was taken, who was being photographed, and why.  To the tidy-minded individual, the obvious answer is “Throw it away.  If you don’t know who it is, why give it house room?”  For example, the only note on the back of this rppc of heavily-dressed individuals is an ad for the photography studio in St. Paul, Minnesota.  (Which may explain the heavy coats.)

     One’s curiosity may be aroused by a photo, but without any data, you will never know the answer.  I’m guessing these are sisters, but, allowing for fashion, it COULD be Mom and Daughter.  And what was the occasion?

     It is clear that THIS photo was taken in a studio: the background and props are unmistakable.  So, um, why did somebody bring their spaniel to the studio to have a picture taken?  What was the puppy’s name?  had he just won a local prize, or was he a lost dog, and someone wanted to post pictures of him in case someone was looking for him?

     The same goes for this young lady.  For what occasion was she dragged downtown to the photographer’s lair to have her image captured?  Was she starting school?  Was she the flower firl at the wedding?  She looks really, really thrilled about it all, so this was not HER idea.  And would a name have been completely out of place?

          What were these boys doing in the garden with that wagon of flowers?  They’re not really dressed for gardening.  Are they itinerant flower sellers?  Or were they so cute their folks dragged them into the garden to be photographed with something picturesque?

     It’s like shuffling through a shoebox of someone else’s family photos, those things they were going to get around to labeling.  That isn’t to say they don’t throw you a bone from time to time.  This enchantingly bad photograph is actually captioned (the photographer could do that while printing the photo) and it lets us know they are “Draining the Marsh”.  Well, I never would have guessed that, and I still don’t quite know what we’re looking at.  And would it have been too much to ask “What marsh?  Where?”  But there is no further data available.

     And THIS postcard is well documented: on the back someone has written the date, with the names (and ages) of all the women involved.  (I’d tell you these, but someone has already bought this from me, so if you recognized your great-grandmother, I’d have to disappoint you.)  But, um, nowhere does it explain why these women are sitting together outside a tent, which is at LEAST as interesting as knowing which one is 63 and which one is 2.

     I suppose it’s a message to us all to label all those photos: in the shoebox, in the album, even on the phone.  You know who you are.

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