Before the age of smart phones with text messaging and email available at our fingertips, people relied on letters to communicate across distances. Even after the invention of the original telephone and the telegraph, most average people still wrote letters. The “Information Age” that we now live in has revolutionized communication in an unprecedented way that has led to the abandonment of letter writing.
For these photographs I tried to capture some different angles to represent the way the reader of the letter might be viewing it. For my backdrops I chose a rustic looking wooden table for one of the letters to give it a historical or nostalgic theme. For the other letter I used a plain white table simply to make the picture readable for its digital form. Since my project focuses on letters, the lighting for the photos had to be bright and plentiful because the words have to be readable, so there was little creativity with the lighting.
IPhone Camera – first 3 photographs (envelope and first letter) – JPEG file, 1.3 MB, 3264 x 2448 pixels, 72 DPI
Hi Resolution Scanner – the last 2 photographs (second letter) – JPEG file, 1.6 MB, 2074 x 3419 pixels, 400 DPI
My set of ephemera represents several different things. First, the broad history of letters and how we are witnessing their extinction. Secondly, it represents a history of the relationship between my wife and I when we were yet two young fools in love. Finally, these letters and images remind me personally about my experiences at boot camp for those 13 long weeks. All of these are why this image set is significant, for me personally and for the historically inquisitive mind. I wrote these letters with no thought towards their long term ephemeral value, only with a hatred for my Drill Instructors and a longing for the ocean on a hot summer day. My wife’s perspective was that of a 17 year old girl trying to comfort and distract her boyfriend from the woes of boot camp life.
Letter writing is not something that students would learn to do from practice like students in the past would have. There is no need for a student to write a letter when they can email, call, or text much more efficiently than waiting on the U.S. Postal service. Pedagogically, I think there are a couple of things that letters could be used for. First, letters are a significant source of the historians’ primary evidence about the past so understanding the parts of a letter and how they are used would be good just for students to know. Letters would be an excellent way to recreate the digitization process by having students write a letter of their own and digitizing it before mailing it. Hopefully after a response is mailed back, both letters can be digitized and students will have a first-hand grasp on digitization, letter writing, and how slow the communication process between people was at one time.