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16 October 2014

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Picture Postcards

By Frank Armstrong
April 2002, Gorsedd
A digital story from Capture Wales

A passion for postcards

Frank Armstrong retired to live in north Wales some years ago. He had a varied career in radio communication, photography and retailing. For him, retirement brought with it the freedom to pursue all manner of interests. One of Frank's passions is copying and preserving old picture postcards, which he displays on his own website.

Picture Postcards

Harp Music in the background

I have a passionate interest in the work of North Wales photographers who during the early 1900's recorded some absorbing images of community life. It needed no great imaginative leap to marry their new technologies to seaside holidays and the postal service... using large glass negatives, the picture postcard industry was born.

As a child I can remember the racks of postcards... my family browsing these and posting a batch was a first duty at arrival at the seaside.

Coming across an old postcard album I resolved to retrace the steps of pioneers... I would stand and photograph from the exact spot occupied by an earlier photographer.

Comparisons were interesting, though with close over 100 years of development and the massive increase in road traffic, locating a spot possessed now by a photographer's ghost and perhaps a scrap yard wasn't always easy.

My interest grew... I re-photographed cards from friends, dealers and postcard fairs.

I displayed some of the postcards on my Times Past website. Arousing interest worldwide, this made many friends for me in Welsh societies overseas.

The postcard photos are interesting but these are often eclipsed by the written messages... as the tiny neat and carefully penned note to a friend or family or a scribbling note in copying ink purple... but the message I hardly dare guess about is this one from March 1919.

'Dear Les,
I will call tomorrow on my way home for the boots. Have you any knickers I could borrow? Gert hasn't. Best wishes, George.'

I find endless interest in looking back over my shoulder to another age, through the eyes of a long gone photographer who could never imagined the changes to come which was just over his horizon... and neither in our time can we. I wonder where will the postcards have taken us a hundred years from today.

Frank Armstrong

Is this your first time you've used new technology?
No, not at all. I have written a number of websites, one of which is the 'North Wales Photo Archive' which freely displays hundreds of these old images. It's arousing great interest from Welsh societies the world over.

Are you enjoying your retirement?
Retirement has been kind to me. During a working life it is difficult simply to follow one's nose as new interests unfold. It's totally different now, every week seems to bring along something vibrant, challenging and exciting.

What are you currently doing?
I am currently interested in 'digiscoping' - high magnification photography using a telescope and a digital camera. As a complete departure from technical matters, I am writing a little 'nonsense-poetry' and I'm a keen cook and baker.

Why did you choose to tell this particular story?
I felt it has good general appeal. Almost always I work on my own and prefer it this way. Working with others - team sports and the like - have never appealed to me. I wondered before attending the Denbigh digital storytelling workshop how I would take to this group activity. I was very pleasantly surprised.

I can't overstate how impressed I was with the friendliness and skills shown by the BBC in slowly, gently, but firmly leading us all by the hand. Looking back to the start of the workshop I can see that I did not appreciate fully (even partially?) what we were about to do and my early work was out of line. I was nevertheless shepherded back into the fold almost without realising it. We started off as a very diverse group with nothing at all in common, yet ended up happily interacting as a working team.

Most importantly, though we were all looking towards a common goal our individuality was preserved. I cannot overstate the importance which I attach to this well though out approach to the group.

What did you gain from creating your own story?
I was introduced to new technology. I welcomed the opportunity of trying out software that I hadn't worked with before. I now enjoy working with the packages I was introduced to, and use them quite regularly now.

Your comments

"My own memories were dragged out from deep within looking and listening." Tricia Brown, Panama City, USA.

"I was searching the web for references to my web site when I came upon the "post card" Frank Armstrong. It reminded me of the "Rephotographic Project" done in the 80's in the western US." Frank Armstrong West Boylston, MA - USA.

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