Wednesday, June 26, 2019


I don’t know how best to describe my relationship with or affinity for postcards. On one hand, they’re a unique gesture—an expressive medium that occasionally exemplifies good photography. On the other, they’re simply a means of communicating sentiment. They also serve as historic footnotes—representations of certain places, documentation of when those locales were held dear/promoted, how a physical space appeared at a certain time.

- Post Secret exhibit at the San Diego Museum of Man, Summer 2018.

Also: like every other teenager who had an interest in art during high school—I followed Post Secret for a bit. A mail-based art project by Frank Warren, Post Secret saw (and still does see) hundreds of thousands of people send in anonymous postcards that express their hopes, fears, regrets, anxieties, observations, etc. These days, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that project. Seeing a Post Secret installation in San Diego last summer had me questioning the whole thing. Nevertheless, it represented another aspect of my personal history and fascination with the medium of postcards. 

A few years back, I got this idea in my head to shoot 224 photographs of the Cincinnati skyline. The goal was to create one photograph of the city skyline for each year of how old the city was at the time (224 years old in 2012). Some were straight-on shots, some were a bit more abstract. I never finished the collection—it all ended up being a bit too ambitious (especially considering the arbitrary number and ridiculous constraint I had put on myself) and I lost interest among being a full-time student with a full-time job and other obligations. 

- Image made for the '224 Views of Cincinnati/Views of Cincinnati' series. Winter 2012.

Then I went back. I was going to transform the '224 project' into a “Postcards of Cincinnati” thing. I planned to select the images from the “224 series” (and shoot new stuff) that best met a loosely defined “postcard criteria.” I’d publish all the images (with postcard-style text) in an ongoing narrative here via QC/D while exploring the qualities and history of postcards. Maybe I’d even sell these custom postcards or set something up so that folks could find an image, add a message, and then pay a quick fee to shoot off a QC/D card to a friend or loved one. For awhile, I even did some testing while traveling. 

I had this app where I could shoot with my camera, load a photo onto my iPad, edit it, and then instantly turn it into a postcard. I’d digitally write a message, pay the postage online, and a printer would ship that postcard to my friends. Rather than buy them cards from flashy vacation destinations (places I certainly wasn’t going to anyways), I’d send them “hand(digital)made” postcards of weird places I had been. Some folks got postcards from places like one of the last McDonald’s that still sold pizza, a few got cards of parking lot carnivals, and others got cards of wherever I happened to find myself at that particular moment in life. I stopped doing all that when that app ceased to exist, lost in an iOS update when the developer didn’t keep up. The whole idea of this Cincinnati postcard project got moved to the back burner in favor of evolving interests or other things that I needed to prioritize anyways—as the story often goes with QC/D.

In the end, the furthest that my “postcard project” got was the aforementioned testing phase and some research that came via popping into little gift shops I’d come across. You can frequently find people selling vintage postcards, often in bundles, for prices as low as a dollar. I wanted to find good photography, vintage looks, stuff that was eye catching or had examples of just how good film captures moments/places/scenes. All of the accumulations accompanied the other cards I had tucked away from over the years: ones my dad would send (and still sends) when he’s traveling alongside cards from other people over the years: coworkers, friends, family. 

Maybe I’ll pick the project back up one day or find a reasonable way to send images from here on QC/D as postcards (why “share” on Facebook when you can do something much cooler?). Some of the vintage cards I’ve acquired could even still be mailed. That could be a component, right? Maybe I can get a gig making photographs for postcards? The industry seems both peculiar and fascinating (and seriously, if you have any leads or advice on how to enter that game, let me know). 

In the meantime, though, here are some of my favorites that I’ve found over the years, as well as, excerpts of the stories found on their backs. 

1. Sent to Cleveland from Italy with a handwritten “best wishes.” From the “Paradise Baths” in what I think is Corsica. No date, stamp long removed. Love the colors and composition.

2. Sands Hotel in Las Vegas sent to Massillon OH in 1976. Handwriting on the back is a little hard to read, but the author “finally made it” after a “very interesting trip here.” The Sands was demolished with a spectacular implosion in 1996, twenty years after this postcard was mailed.

3. What was probably an atypical view when this postcard was mailed in 1974, but the color and appearance of buildings now give it a historic/vintage look that makes it far more interesting. Love the bright colors and film grain here. Another card that was sent to Massillon, OH. Per the text on the back: it was a long ride down, it’s 84 degrees, the weather is beautiful, and they haven’t seen their friends or relatives yet. Photograph was by Frank Boran.

4. Hawaii, sent to Bedford OH on June 11, 1976. Sender was spending three weeks on the island with their daughter. Don, Bob, and Bob’s girlfriend were there too. Photograph by Mike Roberts a.k.a. “The Continental Card of Hawaii.” You can read about the 70s era tiki photography style of Mike Roberts here.

5. Fort Lauderdale Marina sent to Massillon, OH on Nov. 18, 1972. Handwriting on the back is a bit too hard to read—cramped and faded into the space allowed—but the stamps placed on the back supported the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Per the credits on the back: this card was actually printed in the Republic of Ireland. It shows the Pier 66 Marina and Hotel (topped by a revolving restaurant). Interestingly enough, I first wrote a draft of this entire article well before I ended up in Fort Lauderdale. Our cruise ship passed by this building on the way to Cuba. I distinctly remember looking at it and loving its architectural style. It felt like I had seen it before.

And I had: in a Columbus antique shop last October when I snagged this postcard.

6. Phoenix, 17 Mar 1978. Another one to Massillon. Weather was “so lovely” out there and the sender told the recipient they’d call upon returning home. Bob Petly Aerial Photography made this image. Petly was apparently known for his postcard work in the American west.

7. From September 1974 and sent with an 8 cent Eisenhower stamp. The mailer was staying at the hotel seen in the photograph: the Iliaki with its "dancing fountain courtyard." Not sure if the fountain still exists, a few other postcards seen online show what appear to be similar views. Hawaii has changed a bit, but there’s plenty of places on the islands that feature this kind of charm.

“This is our hotel and it is beautiful.”
“There are mountains all around.”
“The weather is ideal.”

8. Munich Germany’s Olympic Park sent to Cleveland, OH. Date unknown. Per sender on the back:
“Beer is out of this world—so are the prices…People are friendly, girls are built.”

9. Algiers Cable Railway. November, but year unknown. Sent to Cleveland. Sender spent one day in the city. No mention of if they rode the cable railway. Image copyrighted as 1971. Postal processing marks are in Arabic.

10. Detroit sent to Bedford, Ohio in 1975. The image isn’t the greatest, showcasing the swaths of city that were ruined for an expressway while the skyscrapers tower above the encroaching roadway. In 1975, though, this was something worth highlighting:
“Exemplifying its role as the ‘Motor City,’ Detroit’s outstanding expressway system provides excellent access to the metropolitan nerve center..” 

The handwritten message makes no mention of the highway. Apparently the sender(s) wasn't impressed?

11. Never mailed or used, copyrighted as 1985. “A pleasure cruiser leaves for a journey,” the caption reads. No idea where.

EDIT: Per the anonymous commenter below, here's a little light shed on this particular postcard:

"#11 is a Russian cruise line, Rechflot (Речфлот) The particular boat in the photo is named after the 19th Century writer and revolutionary philosopher Nikolai Chernishevski (Николай Чернышевский). I'm not sure where that particular boat was traveling in 1985 beyond the USSR, possibly a domestic river cruise. The ship still shows up as being active on the Rechflot web page."

12. Never mailed or used, no copyright date. Fort Ticonderoga Ferry that serves Ticonderoga, NY and Shoreham, VT on Lake Champlain. They ferry still offers seasonal service.

13. Houston Texas, never mailed or sent. No copyright, but the manufacturer lists a website on the back of the card. Smith-Southwestern still produces postcards and souvenirs today. The caption highlights the city’s skyscrapers, as does the photograph. The rather bland foreground is mostly obscured by awful, presumably early 2000’s style fonts. Beautiful light, though.

14. Never mailed or used and with no copyright. The downtown Baltimore Holiday Inn at Howard and Lombard Streets.
“Across from Civic Center — revolving Roof-Top Restaurant — Coffee Shop — Cocktail Lounge — Heated Pool — Free Parking — 400 Rooms.”
Apparently the building still exists, but the restaurant stopped rotating in the 70s and was more akin to a “carnival ride.”

15. Never mailed or sent, printed in Ireland, but featuring the Atlanta Memorial Arts Center. A “John Hinde Original” according to the logo. Hinde was a well know postcard photographer, lauded for his meticulous attention to detail as he was setting up shots. That reputation shows here, not just with a beautiful composition and choice of light/time of day, but arrangement as well. Note that the two individuals seen are perfectly arranged to be framed by the building's features.

16. Vietnam Veterans Memorial never sent or used. Looks to be mid-90’s going by context clues/outfits. One individual is touching the wall/pointing out a name, perfectly reflected in the memorial. I wonder if the photographer had permission to stand atop the wall? Text atop the postcard intersects and gets lost in the tree. Should’ve just made it smaller or moved it (but, to be fair, I’m not a graphic designer by any means).

17. Never mailed or used, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (aka the Mormons) and the Washington Temple in Kensington Maryland. Seems to be early to mid 70s. Interestingly enough, the photographer captured another person making a photograph at center-left.

18. A Pink Floyd style greeting placed over a photo of the Hyatt Regency Atlanta in Peachtree Center. No date, never used.
“The largest luxury hotel in the Southeast with 1,358 rooms and suites, is world famous.” 
Like the aforementioned Baltimore Holiday Inn, this place has a revolving restaurant too. Except this one still works per recent reviews.

19. Downtown Seattle Monorail Station. No date, never sent. So many beautiful details in this shot from the framing of the monorail train to the passerby beneath the neon sign at right. Look closely at the ramps up to the station and you’ll notice they’re not stairs, but escalators. Incidentally, these ramps look just like a ride at Kings Island Amusement Park. This is my favorite postcard. Saw the monorail for myself back in February, the area looks much different these days.

20. “Historic Riverside Drive” in Covington, KY with its statues and view of the Cincinnati riverfront. Found in the "I Love Cincinnati Shop" within the Carew Tower. Photographs were by Ruth Molloy. The statues still exist today in Covington, but the Cincinnati riverfront has changed dramatically with new parks, skyscrapers, and stadiums. And these photographs aren’t from all that long ago—judging by the vehicles, this card appears to be late 80s/early 90s. I love this time period in Cincinnati, it reminds me of growing up and glimpsing the city for the first time. I also have a soft spot for the warm film tones of marketing photography from that period. The ship seen here was the Mike Fink, one of many floating attractions in the area that no longer exist. The Mike Fink closed in 2008 and the ship sat empty for a long time. I believe it was towed away, but not sure to where. Would love to learn more about Ruth Molloy if anyone knows her or her work.

Postcard was still fresh when I bought it, waiting to finally be sent. Maybe one day I’ll send it off.


Right when I was finishing up this post, I finally found another app that allowed me to make custom postcards (and has been reasonably reliable, so far). In the Fort-Lauderdale Airport, fresh off a trip to Cuba, I snagged some photographs from my camera and made this postcard to send to a few folks: 

When one of them finally made it through the mail, I got this followup from my friend’s regarding their (awesome and adorable) three-year-old son.

“Thanks for the post card! I told Charlie it was from Uncle Ronny, and he points at the man driving the car and shouts to me: ‘That is NOT Uncle Ronny!’ and throws the post card into the sunroom, stomping away. I told him it wasn’t you, but that it was from you, that you took the photos. He then screams: ‘my cars!’ and runs over to grab it back. 
So basically it was a big hit around here. Thanks!”

I love postcards. 


  1. Very interesting post, as always.
    What app did you download to make your postcards?

    1. Hi, Sue, thanks for reading. I use "'s" app which on iPad is known as "MyPostcard." It's not great... but it works. Also available for iPhone.

  2. Absolutely love these postcards. Thanks for sharing.

  3. #11 is a Russian cruise line, Rechflot (Речфлот) The particular boat in the photo is named after the 19th Century writer and revolutionary philosopher Nikolai Chernishevski (Николай Чернышевский). I'm not sure where that particular boat was traveling in 1985 beyond the USSR, possibly a domestic river cruise. The ship still shows up as being active on the Rechflot web page.

    If you want to upload the back of #9, I could take a stab at deciphering the Arabic, but my Arabic is way shakier than my Russian, and my Russian is pretty lame....

    1. Hey Anon, thank you! I've updated the caption above!

      As for #9, here's what's on the back:

      Thanks so much for your help!

  4. Between the age of the card, the resolution on my screen, and my shoddy Arabic skills, I'm sorry, but I can't read it. Cable cars in Algeria are apparently a big thing, though.

    There's a huge thread here
    and more info here
    and tons and tons of videos on YouTube if you search in English, French (téléphérique Alger), or Arabic (الجزائر التلفريك which is basically the French text in Arabic). I watched a few videos, but didn't see that scene from the card. One of the pictures in the skyscrapercity thread shows a seawall, but the rest doesn't match up. I'm sure if I had the time to keep digging, eventually we could hit upon the exact location.