The last time I was in New York, I had a chance to browse through one of the most lavish of these books, Our True Intent Is All for Your Delight, a book of John Hinde Butlin's photographs of his holiday camps made in the late 1960s and early 1970s, designed to be showcased in bright color on postcards. While the initial impression is definitely one of camp and cheap irony, a closer exploration of the photographs reveals a stunning amount of detail, color that makes the eyes bleed, and a series of narrative details that makes any photographer stop and say "How did they manage all that?". One can't overstate how rich the color is...leafing through the pages of the book, it practically establishes another dimension. (Online, the color and detail are fainter -- the highest quality samples are on this on the images to get the large version)

As the book and related articles point out, no other postcard publisher ever went to this amount of effort to capture these types of fantasy images, and it's easy to see the roots of the postmodern, narrative based art and fashion photography of the last two decades in Butlin's postcard photographs. These photographs were part of an exhibition in the UK two years ago, and a good review of the highlights of the exhibition and the details behind the photographs is here, with some images. (A similarly well-written Guardian review is here). An excerpt that reveals tasty details about the process behind the postcards:

"On a more postmodern note, it has emerged that many of these images were not taken by Hinde, who was sufficiently wealthy from the proceeds of his postcard empire to have given up photography by 1965. Instead he employed two young German photographers, Elmar Ludwig and Edmund Nägele, as well as a British snapper, David Noble, to carry on his work. Their task was a complex one that included the setting up of the tableaux, the arranging of often large numbers of holidaymakers who would act out elements of their Butlin's experience in lounge bars, sun loungers and dance halls. Preparation and pre-lighting often took a day, and an image was captured in one shot before the impatient punters grew restless. From his studio in Dublin, Hinde oversaw the colour-separation process that, above all else, invests his work with such an unreal sheen."

As one might expect, this irresistible mix of 1960s/70s kitsch and optimism has avid followers, and there's a site, I like John Hinde, that provides more background along with a more extensive gallery (though the images aren't quite as good looking at this site as they are elsewhere). I can only imagine how amazing (and scary) these images would look blown up on a gallery wall.

Butlin's Ayr: Lounge Bar & Indoor Heated Pool by Elmar Ludwig