A couple days ago I published a bit of a rant on SABR about 2022 Topps Heritage and how lazy its greenscreen photography was. While I try not to go too negative in any of my blog posts sometimes I can’t help myself. Anyway that post was in many ways a lot of words padding an animated GIF that could have been posted by itself and made the exact same point.
After I made my SABR post I realized that 2020 Topps Heritage used the exact same background on a dozen cards as 2022 Heritage did and have expanded the GIF to include all 24 cards. It’s worth noting that the 2020 cards have much more variance in the zoom and cropping of the backdrop (even removing the light standard in one of them) which goes a long way in making the backdrop not nearly as obvious.
Anyway, one of the best things about Twitter is the way that it encourages people to respond to tweets with things that my observation reminded them of. In this case, Ross/@design_on_deck pointed me toward a fantastic video about post cards which all use the same sky.
While I don’t at all think that Topps did any of this with the level of intent that Dexter Press did, the video reminded me about why I got interested in cards and how they interact with my more-professional interests in photography and print production.
Photography and the way it has been distributed as mass media and informed our visual literacy is indistinguishable from trading card and post card history. Looking through those items and seeing them together in sets or collections is a way of seeing how we used to see and learn about the world. This is the reason why I collect the pre-war cards that I do and I absolutely love digging through piles of postcards and arcade cards at antique shops.
That the Bechers were brought up in the video is perfect. I’ve long admired their work but hadn’t made the connection to their typology grids and the way that I organize trading cards in binder pages. In many ways, the very act of collecting cards and other printed ephemera is an exercise in typologies—especially the further I get away from organizing by number, team, or player.
While I usually bias toward having pages of variety, there’s something wonderful in a clean grid of images all featuring the same sky or red shirt photography. My Candlestick Pages are one such typography which I collect. As are my multi-image action images. I’ve seen other people collect cards which feature catchers, bubble gum, double plays, broken bats, cameras, kids, etc. In many ways all of us trading card collectors are making our own typologies and seeing the different ones is one of the best things about Card Twitter and the way people share their collections.
That’s not the only connection that happened though. After two different artificial cloud discussions I remembered Eadweard Muybridge and his particular skill at artificially adding clouds to his landscapes before he became the animal in motion guy.* Because early photographic emulsions were primarily sensitive to blue light, skies ended up being completely white in the prints.** It was commonplace to add them back in when printing and Muybridge excelled at this.
*Bringing us right back the grids of small prints.
**Blue sensitivity means that there’s no difference between something being white because it has lots of blue or being white because it’s actually white. As a result, clouds disappear.
There’s a fantastic article by Byron Wolfe about both Muybridge’s clouds and how his different prints were often different composites. Wolfe is a frequent collaborator with Mark Klett in rephotographing and putting old photographs into a larger context so seeing his approach to Muybridge’s work is great.
It’s also a reminder that compositing is as old as photography itself. As long as we’ve been using cameras we’ve been messing with the images to improve upon the scenes or create things that aren’t actually there.