Cartes postales du bagne

Postcard #4. A (postcard) history of Cayenne

Today while looking for a post box that wasn’t defunct I walked past the town hall in Cayenne. There are often outdoor exhibitions attached to the railings which surround the mairie. Featured currently is a short exhibition of historic images representing Cayenne. Most of these are postcards and the exhibition brings together multiple archives and collections including the Archives Départementales, the Société des Amis des Archives et de l’Histoire de Guyane (SAAHG) and the Musée des Cultures Guyanais.

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This mini-exhibition made me realise two (fairly obvious) things about the postcard. First, that its role as visual marker of history cannot be underestimated especially in places like French Guiana where access to photographic equipment and film was more restricted than in mainland Europe during the early days of photography. And second that there are two, if not three, histories being presented on the railings – the history of the town, Cayenne, the history of its representation to the world beyond and, finally, the history of each postcard as it travelled from sender to recipient to collector and ultimately to the archives and museums back in French Guiana.

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There is also something interesting visually about presenting enlarged images of the town just minutes from the actual sites featured. You only need to turn the corner or walk another block and you are confronted with an updated view of the postcard image that you’ve just seen. SF

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