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Book chronicles “Postcards From America” road trip with Magnum photographers

In May 2011, five Magnum photographers and one writer hopped on an R.V. at the Harry Ransom Center and launched a two-week road trip from Texas to California.

1,750 miles and thousands of photographs later, the result of the “Postcards from America” road trip is a limited-edition book that was released this week. The book is actually a collection of 18 items enclosed in a box signed by the itinerant photographers—Paolo Pellegrin, Jim Goldberg, Susan Meiselas, Alec Soth, Mikhael Subotzky—and writer Ginger Strand: a book, five bumper stickers, a newspaper, two fold-outs, three cards, a poster, and five zines. According to the “Postcards From America” Tumblr, these items “combine to represent the idiosyncratically American character that defines this project.”

More information and pictures from the book are available on the “Postcards From America” website.

A selection of prints from the road trip will be added to the Magnum Photos collection, housed at the Center. The Ransom Center is pleased to participate in this documentary event, an outgrowth of the Center’s relationship with the Magnum Photos collective. In 2010 the Ransom Center joined in partnership with Magnum Photos and MSD Capital, LP to house 200,000 original press prints from Magnum’s New York bureau. The Ransom Center has since created a preliminary inventory and opened the collection for research to students, faculty, and the general public. The Ransom Center continues to work with Magnum, including the Magnum Foundation, to add further research value to the collection.

“The Ransom Center was the perfect place for us to start this trip,” photographer Susan Meiselas, President of the Magnum Cultural Foundation, told Cultural Compass. “Our picture distribution system, represented by the New York press print library that’s now housed at the Center, was part of the glue that historically held us together as a collective. In a post-analog age, we’re exploring new ways of being together collectively, and this trip was one of those experiments. We really saw how the Ransom Center could be a bridge between the old and the new. I hope we’ll keep doing more new projects together because I really believe in the importance of linking the archival materials to a living body of new production carried out with the same relentlessly curious spirit.”

Watch photographer Alec Soth lead a video introduction to the box set.

In the coming weeks, stay tuned for a follow-up blog post featuring a selection of prints from the road trip that will be added to the Magnum Photos collection at the Ransom Center.

We got our postcards today…

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Last month, the Ransom Center participated in and helped to sponsor an experimental documentary project from Magnum Photos called “Postcards From America.” The trip has now finished, topped off by a pop-up exhibition and reception at the Starline Social Club in Oakland. The show was terrific, and images from the trip, printed in a range of sizes, were taped up in groupings around the room. None of the images had credits, which forced everyone to really look at them. There were also two very long tables onto which were piled huge assortments of 4×6-inch prints from the trip, also presented anonymously. The prints had been made at a local drugstore, reminding us all that photographs are first and foremost acts of communication, meant for the widest possible audience. People spontaneously started grouping these images together into small sets, curating on the fly. Often, these images were combined with narrative texts from Ginger Strand, the writer traveling with the Magnum photographers.

This message was reinforced, just yesterday, when we received in the mail a set of signed postcards the photographers produced while on the road, one from each photographer. A thoughtful post on the “Postcards From America” blog by Strand sums it all up:

For the last several days, postcards have been rolling off Uncle Jackson’s two printers. There’s a lot of perfectionism around the postcards—choosing the right images, getting the colors correct—but in the end, it’s a naturally imperfect form. Whoever drops the postcards into the mail slot—whoever delivers them into the chutes and sorting machines and conveyor belts and plastic tubs and mail sacks and entirely human fingers of the United States Postal Service—that person is going to have to take a deep breath.

But that’s what a road trip is all about: the creative tension between the perfect, polished, product and the nature of the road: the fleeting glimpse, the passing landscape, the too-short message on a too-small card: look, this is what I saw.

The ‘Postcards From America’ project ended with a  pop-up exhibition and reception at the Starline Social Club in Oakland, California, on May 26, 2011. Photo by David Coleman.
The ‘Postcards From America’ project ended with a pop-up exhibition and reception at the Starline Social Club in Oakland, California, on May 26, 2011. Photo by David Coleman.

View photos from “Postcards From America” event

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On Friday, May 13, the Ransom Center helped to launch Magnum Photos’s road trip Postcards from America project.  The events began with an open bus where photography fans could meet and talk with Magnum photographers Jim Goldberg, Susan Meiselas, Paolo Pellegrin, Alec Soth, Mikhael Subotzky, and writer Ginger Strand at their R.V., which the Postcards group parked right on the plaza.  (As you can see in the slideshow, getting it there was a bit dicey!)

After that was the main event: a public talk by the photographers and writer discussing the origins and plans for the project.  Although their journey had only just begun the day before in San Antonio, each photographer presented some amazing images from just one day’s work.  You can see many of these images on the Postcards From America blog.

The Ransom Center was excited to participate in this new project, an outgrowth of our parnership with Magnum Photos and MSD Capital, LP to house 200,000 press prints from Magnum Photos’s New York bureau.

I encourage you to follow the photographers on their blog and through the Blurb Mobile app.  Do it soon because they are more than halfway through their trip, which ends in Oakland with an exhibition from their journey at the Starline Social Club on May 26.

Magnum photographers host an open bus outside their R.V. before their program 'Postcards From America.' Photo by Pete Smith.
Magnum photographers host an open bus outside their R.V. before their program 'Postcards From America.' Photo by Pete Smith.

Photo Friday

Each Friday, the Ransom Center shares photos from throughout the week that highlight a range of activities and collection holdings. We hope you enjoy these photos that reveal some of the everyday happenings at the Center.

'Uncle Jackson,' the Magnum photographers' 'Postcards From America' R.V., on the Ransom Center plaza. Photo by Pete Smith.
'Uncle Jackson,' the Magnum photographers' 'Postcards From America' R.V., on the Ransom Center plaza. Photo by Pete Smith.
Magnum photographers Susan Meiselas, Jim Goldberg, and Alec Soth talk things over with 'Postcards From America' project manager Carlos Loret de Mola. Photo by Pete Smith.
Magnum photographers Susan Meiselas, Jim Goldberg, and Alec Soth talk things over with 'Postcards From America' project manager Carlos Loret de Mola. Photo by Pete Smith.
Magnum photographers meet the public at the 'Postcards From America' open bus on the Ransom Center plaza. Photo by Pete Smith.
Magnum photographers meet the public at the 'Postcards From America' open bus on the Ransom Center plaza. Photo by Pete Smith.
Magnum photographer Mikhael Subotzky looking out the window of 'Uncle Jackson,' the 'Postcards From America' R.V. Photo by Pete Smith.
Magnum photographer Mikhael Subotzky looking out the window of 'Uncle Jackson,' the 'Postcards From America' R.V. Photo by Pete Smith.

Ransom Center helps to launch Magnum Photos's “Postcards From America” tomorrow

Image courtesy of Magnum Photos.
Image courtesy of Magnum Photos.

“5 photographers, a writer, 2 weeks, a bus.” Thus begins a unique documentary project comprised of Magnum photographers Jim Goldberg, Susan Meiselas, Paolo Pellegrin, Alec Soth, Mikhael Subotzky, and writer Ginger Strand, who will be traveling from San Antonio to Oakland from May 12 to May 26 on the first of a series of trips across the country.

They’ve been blogging about it since the end of March, so there’s already plenty to see and read. You can follow them on various social media sites, and you can even post your own images at the “Postcards From America” Flickr site. At the end they will be mounting a special exhibition of images from the trip at the Starline in Oakland, and they promise to include some of the follower-contributed Flickr images as well.

The idea was born at a retreat where Magnum photographers talked about, of all things, photography. It’s exactly the type of independent project that was behind Magnum’s founding by Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, David Seymour, and George Roger in 1947. Established to preserve the copyright of their work, the Magnum cooperative agency thus secured perpetual revenue from the photographers’ imagery. This watershed moment in photojournalism thereby allowed the photographers to break free from the news cycle and pursue more in-depth and independent projects like “Postcards From America.”

The Ransom Center is excited to participate in this unique documentary event, which comes as an outgrowth of our relationship with Magnum Photos.  In 2010 the Ransom Center joined in partnership with Magnum Photos and MSD Capital, LP to house some 200,000 original press prints from Magnum’s New York bureau. The Ransom Center has since created a preliminary inventory and opened the collection to students, faculty, and the general public. We continue to work with Magnum, including the Magnum Foundation, to add further research value to the collection.

The events on Friday, May 13, begin with a chance to informally meet and talk with the photographers between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. at their R.V., which will be parked on the north end of the Ransom Center plaza. This will be followed by a public discussion among the “Postcards” participants about photography and ways to picture America, held at 7 p.m. C.S.T. at Jessen Auditorium, Homer Rainey Hall, across the plaza from the Ransom Center. The program will be webcast live.

I hope you can join us.