Backgrounds: The Outdoor Setting

Pre-1920s romantic postcards were shot firmly in the studio. In the early 1920s ventures were made au plein air–the following two postcards were sent in 1920 and 1923 respectively:

PC paris 60 (189x300) CM 302 2 (300x198)

However, the appeal of the studio was strong. Painted and white backdrops were by far the most popular in the early to mid 1920s. By the later years of the decade, however, the outdoor setting saw a resurgence, and became seen just as often as the studio types.

A huge range of outdoor settings was employed. Parks and gardens were common settings:

leo 1158-2 (300x184)

As were stairs:

ARS 6201--tinted (192x300)

and verandahs:

JP 289 (187x300)

Like the painted backdrops, the outdoor settings employed lots of water:

pc paris 2950 (184x300)

with boats very popular:

pc paris 2337 (300x191)

Couples were frequently depicted in nature, as if on hikes (though only fashionably impractical attire):

leo 5028-2 (191x300)

or clambering around on rocky beaches:

sol 3864 (193x300)

The coast generally was used frequently. Considering the postcard houses were based in Paris, and the same models are used in the coastal scenes as in the studio shots, it seems likely that at one (or more) point(s) postcard-making field trips happened:

LB 383 (300x190) ARS 6826 (300x196) pc paris 3287 (300x191)

Couples are depicted in urban settings infrequently, and only in the most romantic parts:

A Noyer 1796-1 (185x300) a noyer 1804 (188x300)

The aura of fantasy, however, remains strong. Hand-tinted outdoor shots almost always have the same colour blush as the white backdrop images, while the colour and process of toning adds a strong step away from the realistic. When tinting and toning are combined, the effect can in fact be more surreal than any painted backdrop:

pc paris 2918 (185x300)

However, despite the colourful embellishments, the photographs retain marks of being actually taken outdoors, from captures of scratched graffiti:

pc paris 2402 hi def

to shoes muddied from the romantic nature hike:

PC Paris 3529

to squints into the sun:

a noyer 1653-3

These little unintended details are remarkable in reminding us that even these fantasy postcards were made by real people in an actual moment.

Next: Other background types


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