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Monday, December 20, 2010

Our Time, Place and Condition

When I studied art history in a course I took at Acadia in the 1970s, a text book stated that art was a reflection of "man's time, place and condition."   I still ponder the wisdom of this statement today. 

Recreation and leisurely time were reserved for the wealthy until about 1900 and only after did the concept of the "holiday" became a marketable commodity to the middle classes.  At the beginning of the last century, cameras were still relatively rare and certainly not very portable, or affordable.  Local photographers however recorded the people, landscapes and points of architectural interest that purveyed a face of who they were, what they were, and where they were to the world outside - through selling postcards to residents and the new tourists for pennies apiece. 

Over the past decade, I have collected hundreds of cards, most of them bought on eBay from diverse locations such as Switzerland, Germany, South Africa, Australia, Italy, Britain and the United States (among others) where cards originating in Nova Scotia were sent to family and friends between about 1900 and 1915.  If these photo images are in themselves invaluable, many of the messages on the back are equally insightful to the province's people and the times in which they lived.  Wars were being fought far away, and the widely separated rural towns, villages of the province and people were joined to the outside world only by horse and wagon, ships and trains that were the arteries for trade and commerce. People in rural areas depended on the bounty of natural resources from the land and sea, lived and died, often with only a postcard received well after an event had happened to commemorate another major life chapter in passing.  It is this rich, fragmented visual and written history that fascinates me today and the connection between our province's people, the land, water and sky and a value system that is now gone forever.

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