While I was looking for some images of handmade Japanese papers, I came across this series of postcards from MIT’s Visualizing Cultures collections. The subject matter deals with the Russo-Japanese War from 1904 to 1905, but that isn’t what caught my eye. What I love is the imagery, and the way the cards are printed. Bright, colorful, and in many cases abstracted images, that while visualizing the romanticized view of war which was common before WWI, are really quite beautiful. One of my favorites features ships at sea with harbor mines floating beneath them. The mines look like alien cow utters floating in a sea of pink and blue. Another is a water-color wash of a ship’s mast emerging from a slash of red. The ship flies the flag of surrender, but if you had to historical reference to the Russo-Japanese War, the image could be taken entirely differently.
It’s interesting in the fact that these postcards were specifically propaganda for the Japanese people, and the Japanese victory over the Russians. The postcards themselves were distributed and collected on a global level due to international postal conventions and the low expense of printing and mailing them. In addition, not only did Japan produce postcards but the Europeans, americans, and Russians did as well. Because of this, we have a visual reference to the modern war as seen from a multi-national perspective.
“We can literally “see,” through thousands of fixed-format images (postcards have remained the same size to the present day), what people throughout the world were being offered as a mirror to the war and all that it portended.” -John W. Dower, MIT’s Visualizing Cultures