Did you know that trick photography and special effects has been around way longer than us? The pioneers made a fortune from their skills at creating trick photos for the masses. This was way back before digital photography and photo editing software, so not everyone have the skills to do it. If you had digital camera and photo editing software back then, you’d be a very rich person!
Introducing the tall tales postcards
Among the earliest examples of trick photography ideas are the “tall tales” postcards that appeared during the American Golden Age of photographic postcards, produced between 1905 and 1915. Photography itself had been around for a full fifty years by the time the tall tales postcards arrived, but for many in the rural populations it was still a novelty. Picture postcards became very popular in the United States by the beginning of the 20th century as it became a quick and convenient way to communicate with people over long distances. In fact, for some it was the only way to communicate.
Food and agricultural abundance
Picture postcards from oversea or cross-border relatives offered a glimpse of the outside world for those unable to travel, so it was the next best thing for actual travel. Creative photographers manipulated and modified the photos, sometimes to exaggerated proportions, and it became known as tall-tale postcards. Initially a humorous novelty, people eventually realized that these postcards can be used to create a desired “image” or perception about a town or region.
Old trick photo ideas
Food were a recurring theme, so the tall tale postcards had super-sized potatoes, fruits, and animals hauled in by the local farmers. This is supposed to give people the idea that these rural communities had agricultural abundance, thus encouraging people to move and settle. The exaggeration was so extreme that it looks almost surreal as you look at the weathered black and white post cards depicting people catching ducks the size of cars. Unfortunately the reality was far from what the trick photo postcards portray. These days you can’t go to a popular tourist destination without seeing flattering postcards for sale that you can mail home. In a way you’re actually paying to advertise for them!
William H. Martin – a successful and rich trick photographer
It is around this time that one of pioneers of trick photography and special effects in postcards was William H. “Dad” Martin. He had a studio in Ottawa, Kansas and came upon the idea of using photo tricks to create exaggerated post cards for sale. His post cards were of quality that it was difficult to detect traces of manipulation or how it was joined together from various photos. The meticulous attention to detail and the creativity of his post cards became a huge success.
His post cards were so popular that he sold his studio to concentrate on the post cards. By May of 1909, the Martin Post Card Company reportedly churned out some ten thousand cards a day. A year later a newspaper reported the company was producing seven million post cards a year. In three short years his trick photo ideas made him a very rich person. So rich in fact that he sold off the business in 1912 and founded another company.
It is almost surreal to realize that trick photography and special effects existed more than a hundred years ago. If you ignore the black and white weathered look and early agricultural themes, these trick photos don’t look out of place besides a collection of modern trick photos done using Photoshop software. Shows you just how far we’ve come!