'Greetings from New Orleans': Postcards as Art

Mardi Gras revelers plead for bead necklaces from a passing float. i i

Mardi Gras revelers plead for bead necklaces from a passing float. On the back: "We missed you at jazzfest this year..." Click 'enlarge' to read full message Justin Lundgren hide caption

itoggle caption Justin Lundgren
Mardi Gras revelers plead for bead necklaces from a passing float.

"We missed you at jazzfest this year. The whole crew was down and we toasted you and your new addition. At the fest itself the weather was good and nobody got shot (always a bonus). Oh, and the music wasn't too shabby either. Highlights for me included a west Texas band Los Lonely Boys and an interview with Dave Bartholomew in which he openly wept while reminiscing. All those old New Orleans greats are gonna be gone soon, and it doesn't seem like the replacements have arrived. Ciao, Manuel"

Justin Lundgren
An elaborate festival costume. i i

An elaborate festival costume. On the back: "Frankly I don't see this thing going on much longer." Click 'enlarge' to read full message Justin Lundgren hide caption

itoggle caption Justin Lundgren
An elaborate festival costume.

"Dear Jen, Greetings from New Orleans, Forgive me for getting a tad nostalgic about our trip here last year, but the memories are strong. Zydeco at the Rock-n-Bowl, cabbage catching at the Irish parade, faking your birthday at Bayona for a free dessert. No disrespect to Sophie but this trip has been kind of blah. Frankly I don't see this thing going on much longer. You think I could give you a call when I get back? Jake"

Justin Lundgren
New Orleans dance troupe. i i

New Orleans dance troupe. On back: "Where did we go wrong?" Click 'enlarge' to read full message Justin Lundgren hide caption

itoggle caption Justin Lundgren
New Orleans dance troupe.

"Dear June Greetings from New Orleans. I stopped by Lafayette cemetary yesterday and put some flowers on Steven's grave. It looked fairly unchanged since the funeral. Crumbling and moldy -- just the way he'd have liked it. Every day for 4 years I've asked myself the same questions: How could things have gone wrong so quickly? Where did we go wrong? Talk soon Love Bob"

Justin Lundgren
Three friends dressed for revelry. i i

Three friends dressed for revelry. On the back: "I finally pried that recipe out of MeeMaw." Click 'enlarge' to read full message Justin Lundgren hide caption

itoggle caption Justin Lundgren
Three friends dressed for revelry.

"Sissy, Greetings from New Orleans, I finally pried that recipe out of MeeMaw. You'd have thought she was guarding critical national security secrets. Creole mustard vinaigrette: Ingred: 1 tsp chopped garlic, 1tsp creole mustard, 15 turns pepper, 2 sprinkles salt, half cup rice wine vinegar, quarter cup balsamic vinegar. Just blend it all and slowly add 1.5 cups olive oil. We're going to Tipitinas later tonight for a little cajun dancing action. Good luck with your party. Buck"

Justin Lundgren

What if you were walking along a sidewalk and came upon a hand-written postcard, lying writing-side up on the ground, stamped yet un-mailed? Would you pick it up? Would you drop it in a mailbox? And would you read the note beforehand?

Amateur photographer Justin Lundgren's art project explores that very same scenario. In the months before Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, he set in motion an art experiment he hoped would reveal something about the morality of pedestrians — at least when it comes to lost mail.

The project also became an unintended time-capsule portrait of a city that may never return — a city wrapped in revelry and none too serious about itself, a city in serious pursuit of the art of living.

Lundgren took 33 of his own photos taken at Mardi Gras and other signature New Orleans events, and had the images printed professionally on postcards — three cards for each photo, for a total of 99. He then wrote a story for each image, hand-written on the back. Some of the stories were fiction, some based on reality, most based on a whim suggested by the image. Each note began with the salutation "Greetings from New Orleans."

Each of the cards was stamped and destined to the same address, Lundgren's parent's house in Ohio. Lundgren scattered the cards in spots all across the city, and the experiment began. For some of the cards, Lundgren would watch from a discreet distance as a card was discovered, picked up, read and sometimes even mailed.

The result of his "experiment" was revealing. Fifty-three of the 99 cards reached their destination in Ohio, a good result considering some of the cards may have been lost, discarded or considered trash. The cards with messages that were mostly innocent or humorous survived the trip to the mailbox. The storylines that were somewhat sinister — an implied theft or threats of violence, for example — showed up less often.

David Rubin, curator of the New Orleans Contemporary Art Center, believes that awkward ethical terrain elevates the project beyond candid-camera status into the realm of conceptual art. It's also a reminder of a New Orleans that was more carefree.

"We're all in a different world here right now," Rubin says. "We're all dealing... with challenges every day that make it harder to feel the complete sense of joy and celebration that I think most of this work represents."

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.