9th Conference European Sociological Association

RS07 Memory, Culture and Public Discourse

2009-09-05 15:30:00 2009-09-05 17:00:00 Saturday, 5 September 15:30 - 17:00 Media, New Media, and Public Discourse Building I, 1E6

Postcards and déjà-vu: The "stamped picture" in our memories

The postcards, which are in a way moving images (since they are sent through the postal system) in the age of omnipresent screens, are an important element of the social imaginarium, of our collective memory and of our visual culture. Postcards not only make up an intimate message but they also provide one of the most complete and democratic visual repertoires, by assembling advertising graphic creations, photographic expressions, visual design compositions, fantasy motifs and works of art reproductions. Since it mixes a public visual discourse with a personal message and souvenir, the postcard is an ideal starting point to present the image as "an organ of the social memory and a nucleus of the spiritual tensions of a culture" (Giorgio Agamben, 2004).
As it developed at the same time as photography, the postcard became a crucial device in the building up of our photographic vision of the landscape. Being contemporary of the work of art in the age of its technological reproducibility (Walter Benjamin), postcards are also an important support to Malraux's Imaginary Museum: owing to their small price, they provide a shared access to art images. Often appropriated by artistic avant-gardes, the postcard allows the decentralisation of art (for instance in the 60's, with Ray Johnson and mailart). On the other hand, this petite monnaie de l'art [petty cash of art] (as it was called by Paul Eluard) is also a profitable consumption object controlled by international advertising industries (from mass tourism to art institutions).
Thus postcards constitute one of the XXth century most complete visual atlas, archived by collectors (such as Walker Evans), by museums (such as the Curt Teich Postcard Archives in Illinois - USA) or by nostalgic receivers. At a time when the world pictures arrive mainly from screens, postcards continue to be published, edited, sold, bought, used and collected. This presentation proposes a revision of the role of postcards in the social memory of images, namely by following the notion of Nachleben from Aby Warburg works and the idea of dialectic image from Walter Benjamin's approach.