Wednesday, 10 September 2008

A century on a postcard

This is the book I wrote about the other day. With 452 large glossy pages and weighing in at nearly six pounds it would be merely a coffee table book, except that it is also a magisterial survey of the social history of the twentieth century. It tells its story year by year not only in the pictures, but also in the words, written in so many different hands, that accompanied the cards when they were posted.

Each year includes views of Piccadilly Circus and the New York skyline. Though centred on the UK and USA, cards come from every part of the world, from Los Angeles to Beijing, from Antarctica to Alaska. Several themes emerge strongly, most notably those which evolved with the century, for example transport, the cinema, the role of women, fashion and holidays. Changes in the English language as used informally by Britons and Americans are powerfully registered. Here is a unique glimpse into the hearts and minds of that turbulent century.

The choice was made from over ten thousand cards which were collected for the purpose. Selecting these by searching through nearly a million, providing a commentary on the pictures, giving a perceptive and thoughtful context for each of the two thousand messages and writing a lengthy introduction might be considered a creditable life's work but in fact is merely a tiny part of the enormous oeuvre of Tom Phillips, artist, poet, painter, musician, sculptor, stage designer, translator, critic and almost any other kind of creator you can think of.

Simon Callow wrote a brilliant piece about The Postcard Century and its remarkable author when the book was first published in 2000, and Tom Phillips has his own website.


ruth said...

I suppose you are aware of his son-in-law's site, the daily painting, Postcard from Provence, ?

Tony said...

Well no, Ruth, I wasn't. But I am now.