Postcard-Perfect Scenes, Constructed From Memory and Scraps of Paper

The artist and photographer Vik Muniz (58) has been collecting postcards for almost four decades. He sends some to family and friends, but sometimes he sends them to himself to see which ones come home first: the postcard or himself. But many of his postcards are cut into small pieces and rearranged to create collage-like postcards of some of the most famous places in the world.

“I wanted to make something out of thousands of small ‘nowhere’ somewhere,” he said in a recent telephone interview from Salvador, Brazil. “A lot of what happens to my work has to do with how the outside world matches the image you already have in your head.”

Mr. Muniz’s postcards from Paris, New York, Venice, Rio de Janeiro, Beijing, the Taj Mahal and others are the focus of “Postcards from Nowhere”, a book to be published in November by Aperture, the Fotostiftung and the publisher shall be .

To create a postcard, Mr. Muniz first thinks of a city – his memories of it, the markings that make it famous, such as the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Piccadilly Circus in London or the Taj Mahal in Agra, India. These places are among the first things most travelers think of when they think of Paris, London or Agra.

“The name, some of the addresses, a few narratives form a fleeting mixture of characters in my head that mean ‘Paris’ to me, creating a framework that I fill with every building, cobblestone, lamplight, baguette and tree that I carry it in my visual inventory, ”he said. “In the end, I envision something that is similar to Paris.”

After Mister Muniz has mentally decided on a picture, he starts looking for a postcard in his collection that corresponds to the picture in his head. Sometimes he already has the postcard, sometimes he has to buy it.

Once he has the correct picture, he makes a copy of it. He uses this image as a reference for the new postcard he creates. Then he takes “many, many, many” postcards, cuts them into thousands of small pieces, and looks at the reference copy as he picks up the cut fragments as if piecing together pieces of a puzzle or a mosaic. (He likes to make clouds of the text on the back of the cards.)

Once this image is complete, Mr. Muniz photographs it in high resolution or, depending on the image, scans and enlarges it, bringing every detail to life. The final postcards will vary in size, but they are typically around 6 feet by 8 feet.

“I think about the relationship between the parts and the whole,” he said. “If I make the picture too big, I have a drawing that is finished, but then you can’t see the small parts. I machine the pieces until they fit, and that is how I am a mosaic artist. “

Some postcards are easier to bring to life than others, Muniz said. He said he had difficulty creating New York City, for example, because he could not fully commit himself to an image of the city in which he had spent most of his adult life. His view of the city includes the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

When he started the series, each card took a few weeks to complete, but by the time he completed the project, some cards only took a few days to create.

Mr. Muniz said he hoped people could connect with the pictures and feel back in a place where they were before.

“When you get close to it, you feel like you are actually there,” he said. “Every part feels real and has an identity. You are looking at an image that is very distracting because it is made up of things that are out there and almost physically present. “

Images of all of the collages appearing in this article are in “Postcards from Nowhere, Vol. Me” (Aperture, 2020).

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