Exaggeration and Tall-Tale Postcards
Since picture postcards were first created, they have been instrumental in documenting a locality’s history. Dating from 1905-1950, exaggerated and tall-tale postcards originated from the pioneer bravado of the western expansion and were extremely popular in the Great Plains and rural communities hoping to form an identity for themselves as a place of agricultural wealth.
These postcards promoted agrarian and wildlife benefits to a public that was aware of the exaggerations, and were used to facetiously advertise the products and unique aspects of a region. The common theme among the postcards was immensity; fishing, hunting and riding oversized animals, harvesting gigantic fruits and vegetables, or wheeling in massive sheaves.
While exaggeration postcards illustrated an object of disproportionate size, the tall-tale postcard added a caption, bringing the whole scene to life with anecdotal referential humor. The most well-know creators of these cards were Alfred Stanley Johnson, Jr., and William H. Martin. They created their masterpieces using trick photography, usually taking two black and white pictures, one a wide shot and the other a close-up. The enlarged close-up image was then cut and glued over the wide shot to create the embellished result.
Titles such as "Great Sport Fishing Here" and "Harvesting a profitable crop of onions in Kansas" helped further the intent of the image. Other designers painted their unlikely scenes or used a combination of photography and painting (an early day exercise in Photoshopping!).
Larger than Life: The American Tall Tale Postcard, 1905-1915 by Morgan Williams is a great volume on the exaggeration postcard, capturing “many facets of life in turn-of-the-century, small-town America and vividly bears witness to a unique form of creativity.” To check out more of legend William H. Martin’s work, visit http://www.photographymuseum.com/talltale.html.