Mighty morphin’ postcards: Movement and stillness in lenticular photography

This semester, I am taking a class on Medium Specificity with my advisor, Henry Jenkins (Syllabus: web-app.usc.edu/soc/syllabus/20123/17830.doc).  The class focuses on the problem of trying to deal with a given medium as something pure/whole/essential; how the history of film, photography, and video gaming is grounded in hybridity/border crossing; and the implications for producing transmedia systems.

A set of readings this week on photography prompted me to reflect on a collection of mine – the only thing I collect with any sort of dedication really – lenticular postcards.

One of our readings was from David Campany’s book Photography and Cinema.  His essay on stillness and movement plays with common assumptions about moving in film (with stillness or implied stillness as transgression) and still objects/landscapes in photography (with movement or implied movement as transgression).

For example, referring to the eye as a sort of metaphorical “camera” or as an extension of a camera when observing a street scene has multiple connotations, depending on an emphasis on presumed stillness or movement in the medium.  The eye functioning as photographic camera could involve rapid shots or continuous long exposures.  As cinematic camera, the eye might see moving images or freeze frames.

Another technology, not discussed in Company’s essay but playing with stillness and movement, is the lenticular postcard (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lenticular_printing).  Lenticular postcards are not just still OR moving, or still AND moving – but morphing.  They emphasize the fluidity, the transition back and forth, the slight moments between partly-still and partly-moving in either direction.

I collect all kinds from museums and gift shops – but started a few years ago during a trip to Barcelona.  At the MACBA (Museu D’Art Contemporani de Barcelona/Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art), I saw an exhibit by Spanish artist Carlos Pazos (http://www.macba.cat/en/exhibition-carlos-pazos) that focused on photographic systems of representation.

One of his pieces was a collection of pornographic lenticular postcards.  In between the partial-stillness of the nude and the partial-stillness of the clothed was the movement of dressing/undressing – wiggling, flickering, shimmering.  That movement can be created by a person angling the postcard in different directions (if held in one’s hand) or a person moving their own angle in relation to the postcard (if posted on a wall).

The magic, playful quality of lenticular postcards and photography also lends them to the less adult arena of birthday cards, children’s book covers, and keepsakes from amusement parks.

Here’s good online discussion of the history of the lenticular postcard: http://www.postcardcollector.org/forum/index.php?p=/discussion/437/lenticular-postcards


David Campany, “Stillness,” Photography and Cinema (London: Reaktion Books, 2008), pp. 22-59.

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