Boring Postcards USA

boring-postcards-usa2Martin Parr

Time and time again, I check this book out of the library. There is something incomprehensibly mind-boggling about this book. Perhaps it’s the graphic designer in me, but the scope of work involved in this book just makes me marvel at the stupid things humanity will do. The book is as its title describes – a collection of very boring postcards from the late 40s-70s.

But here is the bit that gets me. Someone, somewhere had to say “You know Ma, what we should do is create a postcard of the air traffic control tower at Waterloo Iowa/The Skyline Motor Inn in Cody Wyoming/The colorful rug near the entrant of the national office of the American Baptists Churches, Valley Forge Interchange, PA.'”

But then, NO ONE stopped this boob. Instead, they forged ahead. They hired a photographer, who, in all likelihood took more than one shot of the chosen scene. They then needed to sift through the shots to find the BEST view of “The beautiful and spacious dining room of the Wesleyan Retirement Home in Georgetown, TX” or “The Virginian Restaurant, Williamsburg, Virginia (with it’s large spaghetti pizza sign)”.

Now, after the perfect picture is chosen, this postcard must be designed and created by a graphic designer. As these cards were made pre-computer, some poor bastard had to hand lay out the type and image, making sure there are no typos in “Arial view of the twin bridges spanning the Cuyahoga River Valley and the Ohio Canal.”

Finally, this masterpiece must be sent to a printer, who spent time choosing a stock, adjusting colors to get just the right tan for the road of the Pennsylvanian Turnpike near Downingtown PA. Once printed (and this again boggles the mind) people have to take these postcards and post them to someone. And they have! Nothing says “I’m thinking of you” than a postcard from the Pike View Motel in Strongsville Ohio.

And yet, the postcards themselves are fascinating. They are mundane in the extreme. But at the same time, they still have a very strong sense of place that you don’t get with shots of the Parthenon, Disneyland or the Sears Tower. Looking at a picture of the Pine Nuche Pa-Rasa Hotel on Colorado Highway 172 in Ignacio Colorado, I feel like I’ve been there. Anyone who has road-tripped the highways of the US will recognize the seedy chipped stucco building with its garish carpet, no different from a hundred other cheap motels. I can smell the over chlorinated pool at the Kingman Travel Lodge in Kingman Arizona, the mold and stale cigarette smoke in the Links Motel, Almeda CA hotel room and the burnt coffee and French fries at the Howard Johnson’s Dining Rom, Pennsylvania Turnpike. They are not wonderful sites, nor are they truly awful. They just …are.

Personally, I can’t wait to get my hands on Boring German Postcards.