How To Become a Postcard Photographer

A Conversation with
James Blank,
America’s Most ProlificPostcard Photographer

By Andrew Hudson

Also read James’ photo tips for Postcard Photography.

Photographing since 1969, James Blank has over 8,000 images on postcards. In 2003, Postcard Collector magazine called James “perhaps the most prolific postcard photographer ever".

James has worked with most of the major publishers, both as a freelance stock shooter and as a full-time photographer for two printers and two calendar companies. If there’s one person who embodies the ideal of a scenic postcard photographer in North America, it is James Blank.

I first met James in 1997 while working on my book PhotoSecrets San Diego. He kindly wrote a section on Postcard Photography. Since this Web site gets a lot of interest in postcard photography, I asked him in 2006 if he could provide more details on the postcard industry.

James is generous with his information and words of encouragement. We both hope you find the following useful.

James, thank you for your time. It’s been said that you are America’s most prolific postcard photographer. Who said that?

In 1996, I got a call from a lady in Columbus, Ohio who was the president of a local postcard-collecting club. She had over 6,000 postcards with my photo credit on them. She said I had my name on more ‘local view’ postcards than any other photographer in the U.S.

What do you mean by ‘local-view’?

That’s the industry name for scenic travel — postcards that are bought by people and produced for profit. The opposite is advertising cards, which are given away for free at motels, hotels and other places, to advertise businesses.

When did you get hooked on photography?

I first got into photography when I was eight. My folks gave me their old Kodak box camera and I photographed my home town of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. We traveled a lot and I took pictures of our vacations.

Why postcards?

My friends collected stamps and coins but these were too expensive for me. Instead I chose postcards. I bought my first postcard when I was about ten years old, at the local Woolworth’s, for five cents. In fact, I bought every one they had.

I traded comic books for my friends’ postcards. When my folks traveled, I would spend all my vacation money on postcards of the places we visited.

How did you become a professional photographer?

The yellow pages. In 1969, I picked up a copy of the yellow pages and looked for telephone numbers of postcard companies.

I called Bob Petly at Petley Studios (a postcard publisher in Phoenix, AZ) and told him I had some beautiful pictures. He said, “Send them to me and I’ll see if they’re beautiful.”

He bought six, and has bought many more over the years.

What job did you have before then?

I worked in the Post Office.

How did you grow your business?

From the beginning, I insisted that my name appear on the back of each postcard. I asked for 50 free postcards, then I gave those postcards to magazine publishers, calendar companies, and other prospective clients. That’s how I found my best clients. It’s free advertising.

How did you know what to photograph?

Distributors would give me a shooting list, and I’d add some spots of my own.

Click here for part 2:The Business of Postcard Photography

Copyright 2006 Andrew Hudson for Photo Tour Books, Inc. Written for PhotoSecrets. You may reproduce this article for personal, educational, non-commercial and non-Internet use, such as in a local photo club newsletter or school project. No Internet publishing is permitted. For commercial use, please email Andrew Hudson for permission.

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