Friday, 21 October 2016

Postcard of the Day No. 85 – Hauling Rocks, San Pedro CA

It’s a great day when a card like this turns up. All our expectations of postcard imagery are overturned. A steam powered freight train hauling rock armour may be a thrilling sight to some (myself included) but that’s very much a minority view. More curious is the presence of a trio of ladies of leisure dressed for a stroll through the shady avenues in the garden of a luxury hotel, scrambling down an embankment to the railroad tracks. There’s a possibility the figures were added by a picture editor in the hope that a feminine touch would enhance the appeal of the image. Or perhaps there’s a pedestrian right-of-way across the tracks – given the extent of the tracks and the lack of an obvious destination that seems unlikely. San Pedro was, and remains the port for Los Angeles and the breakwater was constructed between 1899 and 1911. Below are some other examples of railroad freight on postcards.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Cinematic Illusions Explained

From its earliest origins the language of cinema has been all about illusion and deceit. These Liebig trade cards from 1913 reveal some of the ingenious tricks designed to fool the viewer into accepting an alternate reality. Moments of high drama and tension are improvised by solemn technicians with slender resources. A model train hurtles off a table top in a simulated disaster while a hit and run victim contemplates his severed legs with an indignant air. A primitive form of back projection is shown in a two part image that turns the picture space inside out. What look like giant gooseberries are pursued down the street. Finally we are shown how the illusory can be made complete by rotating the camera lens through 90 degrees.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Road of a Thousand Wonders

This extravagantly produced book dates from around 1910 and promotes the scenic value of a train journey through the High Sierras from San Francisco to Salt Lake City on the Southern Pacific railroad. Generously illustrated with more than twenty tipped-in photochroms of highlights along the permanent way, it made a fine souvenir of a memorable trip. This copy comes with terse annotations from its original owner who signed herself as Nellie when she inscribed it. The selected images make a pleasing mixture of the sublime and banal, alternating views of soaring mountain peaks and shimmering lakes with dairy farms, hydraulic mining and pulp mills.