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Inventing Modernism – Edwin Hale Lincoln, Cinnamon Fern -American Museum of Photography

Inventing Modernism – Edwin Hale Lincoln, Cinnamon Fern -American Museum of Photography

Click the logo to go to the Museum's home page Inventing MODERNISM

William Morgan (active Le Sueur, South Dakota)
Town and Country
Gelatin-silver print photographic postcard, circa 1910
Sometimes you have to wonder, “WHAT were they thinking?”

And William Morgan’s surreal double exposure is clearly one of those times.

The image combines elements from South Dakota and Minnesota, merging an agrarian subject with the slightly-more urbanized residents of a town. It’s a clever composition that fools the eye like an Escher woodcut.

Beginning in 1908, photographic postcards were issued with reality-bending images made possible through photomontage. The Surrealists Paul Eluard, Andre Breton and Salvador Dali collected these “fantasy” postcards; several artists, including Man Ray, used fantasy postcard images in their artworks.

It seems unlikely that an otherwise-unknown photographer working in remote areas of South Dakota and Minnesota would have anything in common with the Surrealists and Dadaists of Europe who were revolutionizing modern thinking about art. But photographic postcards easily crossed international boundaries, as did wild ideas about juxtaposing incongruous images.

The only clues we have are the very strange pictures that have survived, tucked away in shoeboxes and attic dresser drawers, stacked with other postcards of tourist attractions and movie stars… the pictures that make us stop and wonder, “WHAT were they thinking?”

And that question is one that’s been asked many, many times over the past century, as people have confronted Modernism.

  • For an exhibition of fantasy photomontage postcards by William H. “Dad” Martin, click here.
  • A recent book, The Stamp of Fantasy, explores the relationships between fantasy postcards and the early-20th century Dada and Surrealist artists. Click the title for more information.

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