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(last updated 08/06/00)

The first postcards with Central Asian images date to just before the turn of the century. These otkrit, "open" letters were quickly adopted both for local use and for sale to the tourists that first arrived in substantial numbers around the same time. Many postcards were printed by firms located outside of Central Asia. Before the 1917 Revolution, Nabholz and Co. in Moscow, and Granbergs Brekfort in Stockholm appear to have been the largest outside firms. Central Asian firms located in Andijan, Ashkabad and Kokand are also credited on early postcards.

Many essentially documentary photographs made by an earlier generation of photographers were reproduced as postcards with generalized titles characteristic of the genre. Sometimes these bear incongruous or implausible messages - greetings in colloquial Russian from steppe nomads and less than friendly native girls. Photographs made specifically for postcard production range from uninspiring views of government buildings to the more dramatic "native" themes. Many of the cards that remain are titillating or deliberately exotic; crippled beggars, lepers and dervishes, faked executions and contrived harem scenes. Until the Soviet period, postcards rarely departed from the familiar, colonial themes of native types, landmarks, local handicraft production, markets and public entertainments.

By the mid-twenties postcards had taken on the same propagandistic functions as documentary print photography, and carried the same underlying message of revolutionary fervor and social change. Postcard design was closely related to public posters, in which collage reduced the individual to one of the crowd, and political slogans were superimposed on otherwise banal images. Native types and other exotic themes remained popular throughout the twenties and thirties, but photographs of new government buildings and newer monumental statues - first of Lenin, then of Stalin - are found ever more frequently.

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