This is the first in series of short posts focused on the ‘postcard’. The postcard is integral to the project. As we shall explore in later posts, it has an important history within the representation of the bagne both during its operation and as a tourist destination. More generally, the postcard functions as a ‘metonym’ for tourism.
Despite its near obsolescence and recognized inadequacy as form of communication, the postcard continues to endure as a trope for thinking and writing about international travel. The postcard rack is also a staple in any museum or heritage gift shop regardless of the specific histories presented within the site. As such the postcard constitutes a point of commonality not only between penal heritage sites but other forms of tourism. Where framing techniques within a museum or exhibition might differ enormously, the uniformity of the postcard in size and shape allows comparison between sites in terms of the oblong image selected as metonym for the entire space.
Elsewhere I have used the postcard as a trope for bringing together a whole series of reflections on different forms of penal tourism. These mainly refer to visits I’ve made to prison museums and exhibitions but also include other forms of carceral representation aimed at a public audience. The overwhelming question that emerged from visiting and thinking about these different sites was how we might imagine prison differently as something also obsolete (to paraphrase Angela Davis) or incomprehensible? And what role might sites once associated with prison, internment or detention play in this ‘re-imagining’.
Angela Y. Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete? (New York, NY: Seven Stories Press, 2003).