Picture Postcards And Representation Of Ilfracombe Cultural Studies Essay

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Picture postcards are an extremely commonplace item and are one of the most widely circulated mediums with regards to tourism media. Recently there have been increasing numbers of studies that look more in depth and realise their potential for use in geography. Geographical studies of landscapes have most commonly use aerial or satellite images to analyse changes in landscape over time. Postcards can however be used as objects of cultural analysis and often sustain particular myths or preconceptions about locations (Waitt, 2002). In most tourist areas postcards are a relatively cheap and very widely accessible alternative to using original photographs, and are possibly an integral part of the tourist experience of the area (Albers & James, 1988; Markwick, 2001). People purchase picture postcards to keep as evidence of their travel experience. Also, people send postcards to friends and relatives to validate their trip, either to brag about their travel or to simply let them know they are thinking about them. Postcards can be used to illustrate place characteristics and stereotype views of cultural icons.

Picture postcards are symbolic discourses communicating and reaffirming culturally produced images as 'observed realities' (Areolla, 2001). Materially they are mobile, long lasting and extremely difficult to pursue. This mass movement and spreading of postcards helps to reaffirm the ideas and images they show, with many tourists taking part in their use, makes them important objects of cultural analysis (). The images they carry, which are rarely unique or original, are longer lasing than the physical cards themselves, especially as they are often the only image of the location many recipients will ever view. The popularity of the postcard is perhaps why it has been overlooked as an object of study, because of the persisting idea that 'popular' often means 'worthless' (Stevens, 1995).

Postcard collecting was a popular international hobby in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries (Staff 1966), resulting in a large demand for picture postcards of various places. The worlds first postcard was printed in Austria on 1st October 1869, (Staff, 1966). In the United Kingdom the success of the In their first year of use, the number of cards posted was 75 million, which leaves no doubt as to their popularity which has continued for over 140 years. The printing of private cards started on 17th June 1872 however there were still many regulations governing them and picture postcards were not permitted to be published in Britain at this time. It was not until the early 1890's that Britain's first picture postcards were used, these however were not widely sent but rather collected. On 1st September 1894 allowed private postcards of specified sizes to be printed which opened the door to private enterprise and picture postcards were now published and sold throughout Britain (Staff, 1966). This was the birth of the picture postcard as it is known today with a rich and well established history that has enabled them to not only survive but still dominate the representation locations.

Imaginative geographies was a term proposed to comprise the ways that other places, people and landscapes are represented, the ways these imaginings reflect the preconceptions and the desires of their inventors, and the relations of power between these authors and the subjects of their imaginings. In imaginative geographies distant facts were often transformed into western fictions.

This area of study focuses on the representations of other places- of people and landscapes, cultures and 'natures' ' and the way in which these images reflect the desires, fantasies and preconceptions of their authors and 'the grids of power between them and their subjects' (reference). The focus on the representation of other places and landscapes is particularly relevant to this study as the postcards being looked at represent other landscapes that are different and foreign to the viewer.

Landscape, cultural landscape, nature culture (Probably remove)

Landscapes may be read as texts illustrating the beliefs of the people...

The shaping of landscape is seen as expressing social ideologies, that are then perpetuated and supported through the landscape' (Crang, 1998). For cultural geographers nature is first and foremost a category of the human imagination, and therefore best treated as a part of culture. The relationship between the 'real' and the 'represented' landscapes of nature is far from straightforward. (Whatmore) Suggests not to take representations of the natural world at face value, however much they seem, or claim, to be 'true to life'. Representations of the natural world shift from what it is like to what it should be like.

Tourist gaze (Urry)

The tourist gaze is especially relevant as the picture postcards are predominantly aimed at the tourists visiting the town. It builds on Faucaults work of the gaze and takes a tourist perspective on it. Images, in this case picture postcards, are consumed because they supposedly generate pleasurable experiences which are different from those typically encountered in everyday life. And yet at least a part of that experience is to gaze upon or view a set of different scenes, of landscapes or townscapes which are out of the ordinary. 'When we go away we look at the environment with interest and curiosity'. As the postcard market is particularly aimed at tourists or those wishing to send them to people to show them a place, it is important that the images convey the ideas of landscape and difference with which they are associated.

Through the analysis of a collection of photographs from Ilfracombe it is hoped to analyse what is being represented and find why these values are the dominant ideas. The primary aim is to examine the imaginative geographies of Ilfracombe through its representation on picture postcards. Building from the images, the idea of the rural idyll as outlined by Cloke will be applied, as Ilfracombe is a seaside rural area, and to see whether these images create a seaside idyll that is specific to Devon.

Study site

Ilfracombe, North Devon. North Devon is a rural and sea side area that is known as a holiday destination within the United Kingdom with (number of tourists) per year and tourism is worth roughly 25% of the areas GDP (pdf1), with Ilfracombe being one of the three main tourist resorts. Employment Research conducted by MORI in 2005 for the Transform (UK government neighbourhood management project), and by Roger Tym & Partners for the Ilfracombe Community Alliance showed': The service sector (includes hotel and catering) at 76% is 2 times higher than the North Devon (40.1%) or Devon average (33.7%). 51% of businesses by number are within the distribution, hotels and restaurants sector. 12.8% are within the banking, finance and insurance sector. 11.9% are within public administration, health and education. The perception of Ilfracombe as a tourist destination is therefore key to the economy of the town, and emphasizes the importance of its representation, particularly to those who have visited or who may be future visitors. Ideas and images associated with the town are key to its continued success as a tourist destination.

The harbour in Ilfracombe is an ancient Harbour surrounded by Victorian and Edwardian buildings and has long been a main port along the Bristol Channel and was important in the early development of the town. Until the mid-19th century Ilfracombe's economy was based aroundthe sea: importing lime and coal from Wales; fishing for herring; and international trade, including to West Africa and the West Indies. During the industrial revolution and the growth of the railways as well as ferries along the Bristol Channel came the era of mass tourism, in the 19th century the town grew as a tourist resort. The town has grown through periods of decline and expansion as a tourist resort and is currently in a period of high tourist numbers, particularly during the summer months attracting around 190,000 staying visitors per year (). While the town continues to attract tourists it has some very real social and economic problems including low wages, unemployment rates twice that of the national average, and is one of the most deprived areas in the South West (pdf2) Throughout the town there are some areas that have suffered from the uncertainty of the tourist trade with disused hotels, dilapidated buildings and run down areas.

The harbour is the biggest along the North Devon coastline but its current day use is focused upon tourist trips around the coast line as well as six vessels operating angling trips, one charter/diving vessel and numerous privately owned craft and. Ilfracombe Harbour accommodates around 75 local vessels, 95% of which come out in the winter for storage on the quayside or elsewhere. There are around 1,000 visiting yacht nights, mainly between April and October.

The Harbour is one of the key tourist areas in Ilfracombe. As well as accommodating the Aquarium and the ferry services to Lundy, the harbour forms a natural focal point for visitors. While are cafes and shops and the extensive car park on the pier all provide specific reasons to visit, the core attraction is the waterside streetscape and the water-based activity.

Lit review thing

Rural Idyll. (Cloke)

Why is the rural idyll applicable to seaside areas? What are the similarities, what are the differences? Images of fantasy and the play of desire (Idyll).

While Ilfracombe is a seaside or coastal town the ideas of an idyll that surround this area are very closely related to that of the conventional rural idyll 'of humans working in harmony with nature and the land and each other, of a whole scene of contentment and plenty'. A rural idyll is applicable in this situation as the town is in a coastal rural setting. The main physical difference between a rural setting and that of a seaside town is that the sea and coastline takes on the dominant role of nature rather than that of fields, woodlands and other such natural settings found in the country. Cloke () is concerned with 'how is the rural idyll being reproduced in contemporary culture and what does this imply for the future of rural spaces'. This idea is particularly relevant to this study, as it focuses on contemporary images of Ilfracombe, reproduced through the medium of picture postcards. It suggests that the production of images can have a real and tangible effect on the current and future perception and representation of these areas. Thus rural areas are much more dynamic, and far less static than they are perhaps perceived to be and as Cloke suggests (country visions)

'The seeming timelessness of the country is belied by the changes demanded by the globalisation of food industry, the increasingly mobility of people and production, the niched fragmentation of consumption and the commodification of place' .

(Mingay also suggests that 'It is arguable that it [the countryside] has seen at least as much physical and social change as have the urban areas since 1900'. While these two authors were talking specifically about rural areas it is also true for seaside areas, which have undergone multiple developments in this period to match the growing and diversifying tourist market. While there is a particular 'rural idyll' it is recognised that this is an oversimplification of a very diverse set of 'cultures'. The dystopic character of rural areas is being increasingly recognised. 'The idea of idyllic rurality, with its own voice with which to lobby for distinct rural features, has tended to render invisible the seamier side of rural life'(). Seaside areas throughout the UK have varied values and meanings associated with them from quiet relaxing beaches, to pleasure beaches and party areas. These differences between usage and geographical location suggest again that the idea of the rural ideal is closely applicable to seaside areas.

Said placed an emphasis on the 'non-innocence' of any act of representation as well as an emphasis on looking, observation vision and visuality drew attention to the cultural construction of the gaze (Links with Urry and the tourist gaze). Images of imaginative geographies are animated by fantasy and the play of desire and carry with them comparative valorizations. There is what is called the 'Poetics of space' by the means of which places are endowed with 'figurative value'. These figurative values enter into the identity formation of the viewing subject. Imaginative geographies sustain images of 'home' as well as images of 'away' or 'abroad' therefore: 'Imaginative geography and the history help the mind to intensify its own sense of itself by dramatizating the distance between what is close to it and what is far away' (Said, 1978, p.55).

Said emphasised that imaginative geographies circulate in material forms and they become sedimented over time to form an internally structured and, crucially, self-reinforcing 'archive'.

Postcards have been circulating for well over a hundred years and have become a stable form of representation of areas, particularly tourist areas due to their broad visual appeal, low cost and feelings associated with them.

Imaginative geographies refers to more than just the subjective perceptions of individuals. The way that each person experiences the world and the images constructed are inherently social. These ideas/constructions lie in the unconscious realm as well as the world of thoughts and actions. Imaginations are more than the work of individual minds. They are social as well as individual.

Images can be used as evidence for understanding the ways in which identities are constructed.

There is interest in imaginative geographies (realms of the imagination), not as a contrast to, or an escape from, the real world 'out there', but because they help to make sense of, and shape that world.

Geographers must therefore be interested in the nature of these forms and codes of representation, how they may be related to the circulation of imaginative geographies of culture, landscape and identity (Harley, 2001, Rose, 2001. Schwartz, 1996) (from introducing human geog).

Regardless of whether these imaginative geographies are seen as true or false, they have significant implications for the way in which people behave and are certainly not a thing of the past. Fundamentally all geographies are imaginative geographies, in the sense that all are abstractions, and all are social constructions ().


New cultural geography? What does it focus on, what would the sub set followed?

In June, July and August 2010 every picture postcard available in the main streets and shops of Ilfracombe showing Ilfracombe was collected. This was seen to be the most significant period in which to collect the postcards as it is throughout the height of tourist season and the widest selection of postcards from different outlets would be available. The sample is representative of what is easily accessible to tourists and representative of the mainstream rather than hand crafted cards and speciality products. The postcards did not range much in value and were all fairly cheap, from 20p for the smallest up to 50p for the larger cards.

Provide a map detailing where the postcards were bought from eg main tourist streets

The sample focuses on photographs of the landscape which have been integral to how geographers have examined the visualisation of space (Cosgrove, 1985 etc etc ). This study is therefore based within the 'new' cultural geography revolution....

It is attempted to explore textual meanings and therefore mainly concerned with uncovering the symbolic meanings of postcards. Using discourse analysis I as outlined by Rose (2006) the images will be de constructed, analysed and the dominant underlying themes found.

As much of the work is based around Michael Foucault's body of work it is fitting to choose a methodology to analyse the postcards that was produced from his own work.

Discourse analysis I, it is suggested can also be used to explore how images construct specific view of the social world which is exactly what is needed from a methodology for this study. (REF). In particular, discourse analysis explores how those specific views or accounts are constructed as real or truthful or natural through particular regimes of truth (Rose, 2006)

In other words, a discourse is a particular knowledge about the world which shapes how the world is understood and how things are done in it. (Rose, 2006). Discourse analysis I is most concerned with the site of the image itself, although reference can be made to the site of production too. It is particularly strong at exploring the effects of the compositional and social modalities of images.

Discourse analysis dependant on 'common sense'. Depends less on rigorous procedures and more on other qualities.

Two areas to make discourse analysis more explicit :

Analysis of the structure of discursive statements

Concern for the social context of those statements. (Who is saying them, in what circumstances)

How does a particular discourse work to persuade. How does it produce its 'effects of truth'.

Discourse analysis also involves 'reading' or seeing for what is not seen. Absences can be as productive as explicit naming, invisibility can have just as powerful affects as visibility.

Discourse analysis depends on 'reading' with great care for detail.

Where did the postcards come from, how were they displayed, cost etc. What shops, streets etc?


Demand some sort of critical reflection on your own research practice. Discourse analysis aims to be persuasive rather than truthful. Modesty is what discourse analysis substitutes for more conventional notions of reflexivity. The coherence of study in relation to previous related research.


The sample of 18 postcards can be roughly divided into 3 main categories:

Postcards with multiple pictures ranging from 4 pictures up to 6. There are 4 postcards with multiple pictures.

The multiple pictures feature as written on the back:

the old lighthouse

The high street

The harbour

The promenade gardens

The harbour and hillsborough

From capstone hill

Hillsborough from flagstaff hill

The capstone

Inner harbour

Tunnels Beaches

Seafront and capstone

Runnymede gardens

Landmark theatre

Views of the harbour. There are 8 postcards that focus of views of the harbour. 5 of these postcards are taken from within the harbour itself and the further 3 are taken from the surrounding hillsides overlooking the harbour area.

All of these feature small boats and craft

One is taken at dusk to provide different lighting

Two postcards have the union jack very visible, one in the foreground, one flying on the flag pole on the hill in the distance. A further 3 have the union jack within the picture, and these are all on the flag pole on the hill, however are not clearly visible.

Another category looks at views of the rugged coastline line surrounding the tunnel beaches. There are 3 postcards that focus on this view.

One of these is from a view lower down focusing on people enjoying the beach and sea.

Another is taken from the hill opposite these beaches and feature the union jack quite prominently in the foreground Lantern/Lighthouse hill.

The final postcard is set much further back from the other two and gives a much greater overview of the landscape.

Three postcards fit into none of these categories

One has an overall view of the town taken from the surrounding hillside

One focuses on the Landmark theatre looking towards the town

One is an old postcard that advertises Ilfracombe as a tourist destination by the Great Western Railway.

Every postcard features the word Ilfracombe on it somewhere. While some have various other words such as:


North Devon

tunnels and beaches


All of the postcards on the reverse say what the picture is of. Apart from one which has the tunnels beaches written on the front

The postcards are manufactured by 3 different companies:

Salmon cameracolour post cards. Kent ' these postcards feature the word ilfracombe in the corner of the postcards but the corner varies.

The picture post card company, UK. Photographed by valerie flint ' these postcards feature a white border and the word Ilfracombe featured in the middle

Judges of hastings -

The postcards were purchased from a range of shops located along the main streets. They were bought from a total of 7 shops with multiples of many of the postcards available in most of the shops.


4 Key Themes

The range of images presented on the postcards focus on the tourists 'hot-spots' of the town, the pretty, natural and the idealistic. They show a far from varied view on what life in the town is like and neglect its serious social and economic deprivations, instead hoping to naturalise and beautify the town. Representation of the town is particularly biased towards the tourist perceptions and key tourist areas. These images help to sustain a view that the town is idealistic, natural and sought after, something that is juxtaposed to the urban lifestyle that the majority of visitors are accustomed to. The town has a large number of dilapidated, disused and run town hotels that are purposefully left out of the images. Hotels such as these are located along some of the main streets and cannot be missed when visiting the town, however when purchasing these postcards the images they construct become the dominant and remembered images of the town. The town is romanticised and any images of negative, unsightly or unidealistic things removed.

Getting to know the seaside through idyllic representations can help to hide social problems such as poverty, and also 'establishes a political and cultural expectation of orthodoxy which actively seek to purify rural space from transgressive presences and practices' (re). Only.... postcards show a view of the more developed part of Ilfracombe including the modern Landmark arts theatre, with the majority focusing on the old harbour and its timeless association with nature. The images represent an Ilfracombe that is still heavily dependent on the harbour with fishing and the sea as a way of life, a closeness with nature and the rejection of modern technology as the boats pictured are predominantly sail boats. Representing the town as relying on fishery and the sea neglects the fact that 76% of the population are employed within the service sector, directly related to the servicing of tourists. It is sought to protect these areas from modernisation to preserve a timeless and idyllic view. The risk of knowing the country through the medium of socio-cultural construction is that 'significant agency and practice will thereby be ignored'. 'The reproduction of rural idylls, suggesting that these values that sustain the rural idyll indicate a profound and universal human need for connection with land, community and most importantly nature'(). As people become increasingly separated from experiences of the land and nature, there becomes an imaginative construction of rurality which acts as a foundation for sustaining images and attitudes which fail to recognise its current social, economic and environmental role.


The images on the postcards focusing on the harbour and the craft, fishing, leirsure and persons that are located within it. On the postcard in figure... at the forefront is a vessel called devonia... that provides leisure cruises. Other postcards that feature of the harbour also show vessels that are meant for leisure although are not shown as explicitly as the image in figure... This images maintain an idea that the harbour and the sea is used as an area for leisure activities that are connected with the sea and nature. A main theme about the rural idyll has been the concern to conserve the countryside as the location for activities which are supposedly natural rather than constructed, and which often involve 'traditional land use such as agriculture and forestry'. Traditional land use in terms of a seaside idyll would likely relate to the use of the sea for fishing, transportation and leisure (Mingay). The postcards focusing on the sea and harbour and the leisure activities which can be undertaken by using these rather than focusing on the much more modern Landmark arts theatre suggests that there is a need to think of the seaside as an area preserved for natural rather than constructed activities. Similarly the images of the tunnels beaches and the 'natural' activities being undertaken here such as swimming in the sea, sun bathing etc also suggest the need to represent activities that are natural rather than constructed.

'The use of the countryside for recreation and nature conservation by a largely urban population has been a major theme in the development of the English countryside in the second half of the 20th century' (Mingay).

With the town still surviving as a tourist destination 'The gradual adoption of the countryside, its images and its resources by a significant proportion of the urban population' (Mingay).

'In the post-war years, however, the countryside has become the property of a large majority of the population' (Mingay).

The countryside ideal, Bunce, M (1993)

'The countryside ideal was formed in the rise of modern urban civilization. It is not however an ideal that can be dismissed as the trivial nostalgia of urbanites. On the contrary, its complexity and durability demand that it be recognised as a significant influence in the shaping of our cultural landscapes and our environmental values: hence the historical treatment of the subject. The affection for the countryside stretches back at least three centuries and has been nurtured by a variety of forces ' social, intellectual, artistic, scientific and economic ' means that is has been gradually woven into the fabric of possibly all western culture' Bunce, M (1993).

'It is through the complex interplay of these forces over a long period therefore that the countryside has acquired the symbolic status as the idyllic alternative to urban environments that it now enjoys.

The process of industrialisation sharpened the distinctions between the rural and the urban which elevated the rural to preferential status and gave rise to countryside idealism. The growing middle class built homes and moved out to the country and turned the countryside into somewhere for pleasure and respectability' Bunce, M (1993).

'This growing bourgeoisie class also directly affected the development of attitudes towards nature and landscape as they were influenced by the romantic movement at the time of the industrial revolution' Bunce, M (1993).

Romanticising the countryside.... look into it more in depth possibly

This paper suggests that there is also what can be perceived as a seaside idyll that is closely related to that of the rural idyll. Many of the ideas are the same as that of the rural idyll however there are a few key differences: namely the role of the sea takes over as the dominant force of nature in respects to work and leisure.

Is there a blurring of this distinction between rural and urban?

The postcards focus on images that reinforce the traditional and unchanging nature of the town particularly the harbour which has not changed much since Victorian times. While this notion of an unchanging town is persisting there is evidence of in-migration into rural and seaside areas, from cities in the UK, from the 1980's and extended for the next 20 years. Although there are more localized patterns of migrations this suggests that overall there have been important changes in these societies(). Ilfracombe received a large influx of migrants coming from post-industrial cities that had lost their jobs during the 19.... and moved to the seaside to live out a rural idyllic lifestyle. In-migrants were on the one hand seeking out the perceived advantages of 'natural' living, yet on the other hand were expecting to bring with them urban attributes and transform these communities (Cloke, the country. Human geog book). Traditional rural life had already been transformed by the near universal availability or urban-based media and the rise of networks such as the internet, and now this has been reinforced by the infusion of migrants, expecting to live out imagined geographies of rural and seaside life. These areas are changing demographically, socially and economically. A geographically 'rural or seaside' space may now be overlapped by many different social spaces thus transforming its traditional values (Cloke).

Do the Postcards show a need to hold on to this rural/coastal ideal/idyll? This may be influencing the imaginative geographies of the postcards as people want to see the perceived ideal of the area.

Almost every single shop visited within the town, regardless of their main products on sale, had at least a small selection of postcards clearly on display, either outside on rotating carousels, against the wall in racks or close the counter. The easy availability and constant viewing of these images while walking down the streets helps to perpetuate the idealistic view of the town, even if they are not being purchased. Despite the growing advance of electronic communication such as e-cards and video postcards that are offered for free and delivered instantly, traditional postcards continue to be a popular form of souvenir for tourists as well as an economical means of communication. The continuing popularity of picture postcards has been accredited to its broad visual communication appeal. Visual images are an influential and powerful component of tourist destination marketing and dominate all forms of tourism promotion, from travel brochures and television commercials to Internet websites (Jenkins, 2003). Picture postcards not only represent destinations, but also communicate attributes, characteristics, concepts, values, and ideas (MacKay & Fesenmaier, 2007).

Edwards (1996) and Marwick (2001) examined how postcards are integral to the appeal of particular tourist destinations and their ability to fulfil a specific 'idyll' of the area. Edwards and Marwick recognised that modern postcard imagery functions within a cultural code, to transfer symbolic meanings about places to a particular audience. Ilfracombe has a history of being a tourist destination dating back to the early 19th Century which was promoted by the rapid urbanisation and industrialisation of the nation. Being more than a day trip on train away from any major industrial centres meant that it did not appeal to the working class mass market but more to the upper class. This resulted in a specific symbolic meaning being attached to the resort from its very beginnings as a location that was of high standards, beneficial from a medical point of view and of a site of uncontrolled nature (the sea). A Large amount of the early tourists reached Ilfracombe via the Bristol Channel so the harbour was the first point of contact in the town and so developed into the service based area that it is today. The harbour is still the key tourist area of the town with the majority or services provided around this area, however the town now attracts a much more diverse group of tourists than it did historically with very few reaching the town via the sea. Although the harbour is not the first point of contact for tourists today it still features as the main tourist area and holds its associations with

Ilfracombe is no longer a resort that is reserved for the higher classes as it is much more easily accessible with modern day transportation, but is much more open to a wider range of tourists ranging from day-trippers to people who own holiday homes. It does however attract many tourists of an older generation who would have grown up taking holidays to the English seaside.

With such a small range of postcards with very few images available within the town itself, it suggests that they carry social constructions or homogenised ways of seeing the town, with very little variation or straying from these ideas. These images need to be thought of not as straightforward reflections of reality. Instead, the meanings of an image are understood as constructed through a range of complex and thoroughly social processes and sites of signification. Picture postcards are endowed with symbolic meaning and are one of the means by which tourism places are reinvented in the image of particular tourist motivations and desires. Picture postcards are embedded within particular ideological discourses (Waitt 2002), which resonate in a specific historical context and a particular cultural code to transfer meanings about places to a particular audience.

Postcards have been 'read' in both a connotative and denotative fashion showing a growing difference between realistic views of locations towards a placeless and idealistic view (DeBres, 2009). The study of the collected postcards relied on content and semiotic analysis. Using content analysis, postcards were searched for the presence or absence of items. The semiotic study involved the interpretation of the image, speci?cally considering how denotative signs were manipulated to present a connotative sign to the viewer (DeBres. 2009). A denotative reading involves base identification of items in view; for instance, describing the existence of items such as boats, cars, trees, and people.

Connotative signs are those that represent a more complex and far-reaching meaning. These connotative signs vary from place to place, but within a particular culture they can be used to sell and reaffirm a society's dominant myths and ideals. The role of these differing signs is important in the analysis, speci?cally how apparently denotative signs have been manipulated in the postcard view to be used as connotative signs and how they high-light positive aspects of the location with reference to its dominant cultural discourse. Picture postcards while common, are a complex, culturally constructed means of representation. They present views of a particular cultural landscape, which is a fundamental concept in new cultural geography (Schein 1997; Myers et al. 2003).

Since the revolution of new cultural Geographies in the past few decades, a second, deeper, and more critical reading of postcards came into vogue. Studies of this sort by geographers began with a brief article by Renwick and Cutter (1983) detailing how mid-twentieth-century postcards illustrated with maps were mistakenly taken at face value. This was followed by articles with similar themes by Albers and James (1984) and Allen and Molina (1992). Waitt and Head (2002) and DeLyser, Sheehan, and Curtis (2004) reinforced the more critical work of Crang (1996) and Arreola (2001, 2006) by discussing the use of postcards to manipulate the viewer's interpretation of the card's subject. These authors focused on the ways the producers of the postcards make the subject more visually appealing by manipulating particular cultural stereotypes.

Markwick (2001) argues that, 'The picture postcard, alongside the photograph, is the most widely disseminated tourist icon. It serves both as a personal memento of the experience and as a means of extending it to other potential tourists as recipients' (Markwick 2001: 417).

Ilfracombe is not seen as a particularly desirable location to live in due to its social and economic problems, during the winter months the town is experienced in a different way by those who live there. Many of the shops and services close down and people lose their part time employment that is related to the tourist industry which is in stark contrast to the idyllic view presented on the postcards. Therefore it is suggested that 'a landscape valued by one group may be simply invisible, or even offensive, to another' (Ingerson 2003), which suggests that this homogenized view of Ilfracombe may not be valued in the same way by everyone. There greatest difference in terms of the valued landscape would come from those that are 'self' and 'other' to the town. Edwards (1996) argues that the value of the photograph is its ability to 'freeze the image in space and time forever'. He suggests that the photograph can also 'decontextualize that which is depicted by transposing it to other contexts. Photography thus fragments space and time. These fragments come to stand for the whole or the essence of things, often in representations which may extend, symbolically, far beyond that which is photographed. In other words, these become metaphors or symbolic structures which reify culturally formed images as observed realities' (Edwards, 1996).

The harbor as it appears in the photographs only looks that particular way during the summer tourist season, as statistics show during the winter months the majority of the vessels are stored and the shops may not be open. All of the images show the harbor at high tide which only occurs for ' hours a day while the rest of the time it is a dark mud that is not particularly pleasing to the eye. Tourists will however remember the harbor as the images on the postcards showed it rather than the reality which is far less aesthetically pleasing. Sontag (1979) argues that the postcards, in this context, appear to be believable as a direct representation of reality, a 'true' reflection of actual places, people and events, thus the act of buying a picture postcard on holiday effectively serves to represent and signal the genuineness of the touristic experience (Sontag 1979: 9). Markwick (2001) suggest that 'the role of modern postcards as symbols that sustain notions of the "exoticism" and "authenticity" of destinations' (Markwick 2001: 418). It is also argued however that, 'traditional culture is romanticized by being collapsed into nature' (Markwick 2001: 425). It could be argued that these picture postcards are romanticized stereotyping certain places of beauty, therefore, it can be argued that the medium of picture postcards are limited in information and description.

The majority of shops selling postcards in Ilfracombe are located directly off of the harbor or within a few streets, representing the most frequented tourist streets as the Landmark theatre and gardens lie at one end and the harbour at the other. This may suggest that the postcards take on a greater meaning when viewing the actual scenes pictured on them at the same time as viewing and purchasing the postcards themselves. With almost all of the postcards showing images of the areas located close to the areas where they are easily purchased from, it suggests that there is a link between these areas that transcends them being tourist hot-spots. Markwick states that 'the purchase of such a picture postcard in the local cultural milieu in which it was produced, significantly adds to its symbolic meaning and social value,' the nature of the photographic image provides a seeming direct contact with the desired object, a sense of immediacy, which eclipses the mediation of the photographer' (Markwick 2001: 426).

With the postcards being viewed at the same time and same location as the views themselves, it could be said that the imaginative geographies of Ilfracombe come to be seen as just as real or even a truer reflection of reality. Moors (2000) argues that

'postcards and posters, reproductions of photographs, are part of the photographic discourse that claims to produce a mirror image of reality. Most of the images are photo-technically so constructed through camera angle, shot size, lens type, focus, lighting, composition and so on, as to create maximum clarity, transparency and visibility. The settings and style of representation are, however, much closer to a theatrical performance than to documentary realism' (Moors 2000: 878).

While the images focus on the main tourists areas that are attractive and fairly well developed they purposefully ignore the other sides of Ilfracombe that are readily noticeable when in the town itself. The idyllic representation of the town and the sustaining of that view through postcards is how Markwick sums up that 'postcard images play an integral role in sustaining the industry.' (Markwick 2001: 428). Therefore, the tourist industry carefully constructs a cultural landscape for people, especially tourists, who'll identify and connect with the visual image, through the medium of structured picture postcards of Ilfracombe.

Thus, people consuming postcards and the pictures on the front do so because it 'transcends the insipid ordinariness of everyday life' (Brown and Turley 1997: 13).

Taylor (1998) argues that

'Postcards allow one to believe in the experience of a backstage reality, however. In much the same way that tourists' photographs provide an authoritative 'proof' of the accuracy of the experience, so too does the photographic image on the postcard. Such images confirm the 'authenticity of response' and protect the tourist from the anxiety of having failed to recognize the desired object' (Taylor 1998, cited Markwick 2001: 427).

In this context postcards suggest 'reality', as photographs 'possess exceptional powers and they may subvert reality becoming a substitute or even surrogate experience' (Edwards 1996:211, cited Markwick 2001: 427) Therefore postcards 'reflect the tastes, interests and sentiments of the various sections of the community' (Carline 1971: 9).

As tourism is mostly experience based, photographs, pictures, or other symbolic images are crucial when communicating the destination's image to consumers (Mackay & Fesenmaier, 1997). For a recipient, the postcard can raise awareness, stimulate interest in visiting the destination, and help to consider the destination as a potential vacation place (Hahn, J, 2010)

Recently there has been a rise in non-representational geographies, which instead of studying and representing social relationships, non-representational theory focuses upon practices. It is an attempt to move social sciences out of their current emphasis on representation and interpretation by moving away from a view of the world based on contemplative models of thought and action towards theories of practice which amplify the potential of the flow of events. While this may be a useful way to conduct geographical research representation, such as landscapes on postcards, is still key to how ideas are constructed in society.

Further study

In order to take this study further the reasons for buying, writing and sending postcards could be analysed to see what affect this has on those sending and receiving.


Picture postcards are one of the main ways in which tourist destinations are represented and are an integral part of popular culture. Images of places are one way that is used to disseminate myths and fantasies to generate visitor numbers, and when these images are on postcards they are highly mobile and effective at communicating these ideas. This study has focused on how postcards as material objects can be used to communicate a particular social construction of an area. Numbers of postcards bought and sent as well as their patterns of distribution have not been analysed in this study, as this would consist of a far more complex and in depth analysis.

In the case of Ilfacombe, postcards help to circulate and perpetuate an understanding of the town as an 'idyllic' seaside town, free from the constraints of modernity and having a close relationship to nature.

The implications of the circulation of this romanticised representation are far from trivial because they maintain not only the aura but also opportunities for increased tourism, however they can also create a misunderstood and idealised life style.

In portraying Ilfracombe as an idyllic landscape the images are feeding a socially constructed need for a particular set of values and ideas. The images are consumed by tourists so that they can validate their experiences of the town to not only themselves but also to other people to which the postcards will be sent. In this sense they act as a validation of the seaside ideal that has bought sought after from the visit and help to sustain the thoughts of nature, simpleness and timelessness as well as the feelings of ... towards the town.

This is important in creating and sustaining the economy of the town and because of this many other social and economical problems in the area are ignored and kept at bay by these images.

Photographs and postcards form a rich repository of the visual images and a benchmark to assess changing geographical imaginations (Stewart 1953; Vale and Vale 1983, 1994; Shortridge 2000; Arreola 2001; Jakle 2003; Wyckoff 2006)