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Wednesday 25 March 2009
Ron Brownson

Times change rapidly in the world of visual communication. Email has replaced the fax, which has replaced letters, which has replaced postcards. Tony Simpson, in his foreword to William Main’s wonderful local book Facing an Era – Postcard portraits from a century ago (Wellington, Exposures, 2006, page 8) notes ‘In 1912 New Zealanders were sending and having delivered an astonishing 12,255,477 postcards annually’.

At Auckland during the first quarter of the 20th century, there was an enormous craze for sending postcards to friends and family, even if they lived in the same suburb. The cards were often real photographs, not lithographic reproductions. Some of the weirdest ones visually announced that the sender was sending postal greetings from New Zealand’s largest city. Frequently they had artwork with the appearance of a homemade collage. The cards were actually the postal version of the telegram, but had nothing of the ‘fear to receive’ factor that telegrams gained after the beginning of World War 1.

What is striking about these photographic postcards is their humour. They are not joke cards per se but employ photography to have fun. Their homemade, homespun factor is appealing.

Here’s one produced by Ellerback where Auckland’s inner city buildings and harbour are cut up just like a cubist collage. It certainly would not look like this without the compositional discoveries of cubism just a few years earlier. Yes, that is the Auckland Art Gallery inside the letter N! Albert Park is in the letter L. The hand colouring is novel also.

Rotary Photographic was much more conventional, but no less interesting.

While certainly saying Greetings from Auckland it was not produced in New Zealand. Rotary Photographic was one of Britain’s largest suppliers of postcards to the ‘empire’ and they produced everything from images of famous celebrities (see:http://www.maudefealy.vispa.com/mfrotary.html) to landscapes, to fashion collages like this one.

The Auckland Exhibition was held at the Domain from 1 December 1913 to 18 April 1914. This event was the first of Auckland city’s great public open-air festivals. One of the most popular attractions was the photographic studio where you paid to have a postcard made of you and a friend ‘flying’ an aeroplane. It is not known who took these festival postcards and there appears to have been a few operating out of the exhibition’s halls.

The two young men are formally suited. This is just as expected when one as one still dressed up for a visit to town and especially for the occasion of a studio portrait. The airplane is utterly fanciful. It is shown flying over the Auckland Exhibition Building at bottom left. Remember that this would have been the biggest building in the domain, as the Auckland War Memorial Museum had not yet been built.

Ellerback (active 1900 – 1910) New Zealand
Auckland circa 1910
gelatin silver print, with red ink wash
Private collection

Rotary Photographic (active 1905- 1910) Britain
Greetings from Auckland circa 1909
gelatin silver print
Private collection

Unknown photographer (active 1913-1914) New Zealand
Allan and friend circa 1914
gelatin silver print
Private collection