- Postcards from Oceania: Port Towns, Portraits and the Picturesque during the Colonial Era by Max Quanchi and Max Shekleton
Postcards from Oceania: Port Towns, Portraits and the Picturesque during the Colonial Era by Max Quanchi and Max Shekleton traces the colonial visual record of Oceania beginning in the nineteenth century. Specifically, the authors provide a rereading of postcard images captured, stored, and disseminated about Oceania during the "Postcard Craze" from the 1890s to the 1930s. They acknowledge that postcards are tangible and ephemeral objects that "highlight the complex, interrelated histories of photography, postcards and colonialism" (12). As a small portion of Shekleton's private collection of sixty thousand Pacific Islands picture postcards, the 221 analyzed in this book help to illustrate "the knowing and imaging of Oceania by a distant Euro-American world" (46). The representation of the Pacific is long and complex, and this text provides a conversation around the ideas that underpin the images that were produced and marketed.
Chapter 1 demonstrates that the visual history scholarship of "photography in the context of colonial propaganda" about Africa and Asia (20) provides important context for analyzing these Pacific images. As the authors reiterate, all such postcards provide "multiple meanings and readings" available for analysis and interpretation (28). The authors emphasize the trajectories by which postcards from Oceania traveled, as well as the effects they had on how people, places, and spaces were and continue to be understood.
Chapter 2 contextualizes and illustrates the fluid movement of postcards for various purposes: as an educational tool, a support mechanism for the colonial project, a display apparatus for missionary work, and a device for showcasing Oceania as an out-of-the-way place. The authors argue that despite the fact that analysis of postcards in the scholarly historical record was largely absent until the 1990s, postcards (along with other objects and documents) play a significant role as a medium through which to understand multiple sites, exchanges, and readings. Thus, attention to this record provides a rich data [End Page 557] set demanding, and available for, such readings.
Chapter 3 focuses briefly on the "picturesque" postcard, which strikingly even includes images from an area of the Hawaiian island of Moloka'i that was reserved for victims of Hansen's disease (formerly known as leprosy). However, the authors state that "among producers, retailers and buyers the picturesque ran a distant fifth in popularity after ethnography, portraits, port towns and postcards of developing colonial infrastructure" (53). But as a whole, postcards from Oceania emerge from a more than three-hundred-year history of imaging the Pacific, the artifacts of which are now housed in private collections and public repositories. During the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, artists were charged with capturing on canvas images of what the voyages of exploration encountered. The process continued to evolve with the introduction of the camera in 1839 and subsequent technological advances in image reproduction (51–52). These changes have since provided diverse and competing views of Oceania.
Chapter 4 presents individual and group postcard images in various settings under the title "Portraits: Nymphs, Types and Stereotypes." It opens with an arresting image of an unnamed male from Malaita, Solomon Islands, whose dignified and defiant image disturbs the passivity suggested by colonial readings of Oceania. Such images were rare among the deluge of postcards that focused on exploiting the "physical appearance, dress and adornment" of Pacific peoples, which were found to be "marketable, photogenic and of compelling human interest" (68). Most popular for Euro-American audiences seem to have been images of "Samoans, Fijians, Papuans and Tahitians," with very few images of people from smaller or more isolated islands (68).
As shown in chapter 5, the housing and villages in Oceania captured the ongoing interest of Euro-American audiences, as evidenced by the number of postcards produced to highlight linkages and markers of "primitive life," as well as "social mobility and...