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'Greetings from New Orleans': Postcards as Art

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."

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Adam Burke