Territory in Photo-Color The Post Cards of Merle Porter

CLUI photo
The CLUI featured an exhibit of postcards by Merle Porter in the Los Angeles Exhibit Hall, from July 2 to August 13, 1999, as part of the Center's ongoing Independent Interpreters series of presentations. CLUI photo

MERLE PORTER WAS A ONE MAN post card production company producing and distributing millions of cards over a 50 year career. Nearly always about places, his cards have a distinctive style, sometimes depicting famous sites, but more often a sort of celebration of the ordinary landscape: highways, abandoned buildings, and oil fields.

He wrote descriptive captions for the back of each card, full of historical facts and local lore, sometimes filling up more than half of the card's writing space with his text. Known as "the postcard king of the west," Porter was on the road at least 9 months a year, distributing cards to remote motels, gas stations and souvenir shops, while constantly shooting images for new cards with his 4x5 Speed Graphic camera.

Typically his route took him through the California, Arizona and Nevada desert areas in winter, and the California beach areas in summer; his aversion to big cities kept his work out of major metropolitan areas like Los Angeles and San Francisco. At the height of his career, Porter was putting 1,000 miles a week on his Ford Econoline van (which served both as living quarters and portable inventory room), and circulating one million cards a year, under the name Royal Pictures of Colton, California. Since his death in 1989, his family has pretty much stopped circulating the cards, however they can still be found in small desert stores which haven't run out of stock.

One of thousands of unique postcards created by Merle Porter, this one shows his own camper trailer, on the road at Lake Tahoe.
One of thousands of unique postcards created by Merle Porter, this one shows his own camper trailer, on the road at Lake Tahoe. Merle Porter postcard

The CLUI exhibit, prepared by curator Sabrina Merlo, was composed of hundreds of unique postcards, stacked on the gallery walls, on postcard racks donated for the exhibit. A total of over 20,000 cards were displayed at the CLUI, and all were for sale, with most of the proceeds going to the Porter family.

At the crowded opening night reception for the exhibit, Merle's widow, Bessie, spoke about life with Merle, along with her daughter and grandson who were also in attendance. Early films shot by Merle were shown, and Ms Merlo led a question and answer session with the audience.