Merle Porter was a one-man postcard production company, based out of Colton, California. He produced and distributed millions of cards over a 50-year career, which ended when he passed away in 1988. Nearly always about places, his cards celebrated ordinary landscapes, including highways and small town downtowns in the western states—especially California. He took the photographs, and wrote descriptive captions for the back of each card, full of historical facts and local lore, sometimes filling up more than half of the card’s writing space with his text.
Comparing these old postcard views with current views of the same location shows the changes we make to the places we inhabit. Studying them side by side, we span the gap between then and now, and unearth surprising, subtle, and revealing patterns of change and stasis.
This exhibition features a selection of Merle Porter’s California postcards, along with contemporary photographs of the depicted scenes, taken by members of the Center for Land Use Interpretation, a non-profit research organization interested in understanding and exploring the built landscape of the United States.
Also on view…
Postcards and other forms of distributed media can inform the ways in which we perceive, understand, and remember landscapes. Like television, film, magazines, and social media, they can function as a medium for the perpetuation and circulation of idealized imagery. Postcards are mass produced, affordable, and are readily available at souvenir shops, and can be seen as a precursor to contemporary forms of visual correspondence such as Instagram, TikTok, and text messages.
Looking at postcards as record, and as a form of communication, that can shape our understanding of a place, fourteen artists present fourteen distinct postcard perspectives of Bakersfield, today. Informed by Merle Porter’s postcards, each artist selected, mapped, photographed, and described twelve places of local and/or personal significance.
This exhibition is the culmination of the course Art 4020, Visiting Artist and Exhibition, Fall 2021, with Aurora Tang of the Center for Land Use Interpretation, led by Jesse Sugarmann.