Saturday, 31 March 2012

Berlin Panorama

It’s easy to assume that vintage postcards can be relied on as a rich and detailed source of documentary evidence of how things used to look. The apparent lack of artifice is highly deceptive when we realise the dark arts of image manipulation go back a very long way. An exercise like this one from Berlin defies analysis – it might be a single image chopped up to provide two new ones or it could be three images in permutation - postcard publishers were experts in extracting maximum value from every image that fell on their desks. The panoramic view shown below may be yet another visual fiction. The colour printed card has featured here before on its own merits and a friend whose mother was a child in pre-war Berlin told me that it was the height of fashion among wealthy families to employ wet-nurses clad in traditional regional costume like these examples here.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

The Lost Counties of Merrie England

About a week ago the Environment Agency announced restrictions on the use of water in the south of England. The television news displayed a map of the areas affected – Anglia, Thames, Southern, Veolia Central and Veolia South East. Some of my close relatives live in Veolia Central and they seem to be in complete denial on this point, clinging desperately to the mistaken belief that they live in Hertfordshire or Buckinghamshire. In what used to be known as Kent there is little recognition of the fact that they now reside in Veolia South East. This must be what the Prime Minister means when he speaks of transformational change – the ancient, obsolete and economically unproductive county names can safely be retired and in their place will be the illustrious names of our finest businesses. It’s another win-win, publicity for business (and recognition of their enterprise and achievement) and a handsome contribution to the local exchequer in return – more good news for the hard-pressed taxpayer. This is only a draft of what might result but we have tried to recognise some of the hidden hands that drive our economy whose innate modesty is reflected in their choice of names that entirely conceal their activities. There’s a place for the consultocracy – the companies that selflessly advise our great institutions on how to improve their performance by dismissing their employees, in return for a nominal sum. Some of the more obscure names belong to a new breed of companies (unkindly known to some as outsourcing vultures) bringing the disciplines of the private sector to tasks that used to be carried out at great expense by feather-bedded public sector timeservers with gold-plated pensions. Of course there are massive implications in terms of mapping, signage and postcodes but all too often this country has been held back by the special pleading of vested interests – this is a time for putting economic interests first and foremost going forward. Traditionalists can be expected to resist but their views can be disregarded as victims of false consciousness.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Painted Ladies

A select group of handmaidens of persuasion from the distant days between the wars when illustrators were the first recourse of advertisers. An effective illustrator had to be a master of expression as well as match the face to the client’s wishes and the product. The target audience is female and the images designed to reflect prevailing norms of femininity. The pursuit of the female smoker was especially profitable to tobacco companies for whom this sector of the market remains the largest. While the smoker of State Express still seems to be seeking permission, the Craven “A” smoker exhibits unusual composure and a sense of self-assurance. The most alarming figure is the boarding-school fantasy matron whose command to imbibe your Wincarnis is not to be defied.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Main Street

Traditional small town values - enterprise, thrift, hard work, respect for property and good neighbourliness – all reside on Main Street. Friendly local traders cater to the material needs of the community – the drugstore, lunch counter and soda fountain provide a social hub. The artist-in-residence is Norman Rockwell who left no corner unrecorded in his sentimental taxonomy of Main Street from bootblack to barber-shop. Rockwell’s Arcadian images became deeply embedded in the American collective consciousness and stood for an unlikely world of universal human fellowship, business acumen and unlimited optimism. Main Street would typically present a variety of building types and styles, a refuge from the monotony of suburbia. These postcards have another thing in common – they each feature a branch of F W Woolworth. Almost 600 Woolworth stores were open for business by 1912 and the process of eliminating independent traders from Main Street was already underway.