Welcome to part three of our series on Harry Foglietta’s favorite Hawaiian postcards. As with part two, this post looks at hula girl postcards. Please be advised that this post (and more so, the gallery linked to it) contain images of Polynesian women where one or both breasts are partially or clearly visible. If you find this offensive in any way, please do not continue.
So far, we have looked at printed Hawaiian hula girl postcards. In the case of printed cards, an original photograph (or drawing) was transferred onto a plate or screen and then printed in quantity. No matter how skilled the craftsmen producing the cards – there was an inherent loss in detail and, therefore, overall visual impact.
Real Photo Post Cards
A new and exciting type of postcard began to capture the public’s fancy during the Divided Back period – the “real photo” postcard. This was enabled, in large part, by the Kodak “postcard camera”, which produced a negative with the same dimensions as a postcard.
Both commercial and amateur photographers could take these negatives into a business that was supplied with “postcard back” photographic paper and have their photos directly printed as postcards. These photographs could then be efficiently shared around the world.
At this point we have achieved the ultimate outcome – the image quality of the carte de visites and cabinet cards, combined with the affordability and convenience of postcards.
It is important to understand that real photo postcards were produced in quantities that varied tremendously – from singular to thousands. In general, photographs taken by professionals were printed in greater quantities to meet the needs of consumers.
Today, real photo postcards are recognized as being of tremendous importance for capturing American photo history during the first half of the 20th century. In as much as they captured the allure of the romanticized hula girl in all her glory – without the intermediate (and mitigating) steps associated with printed cards – they may also be seen as greatly responsible for Hawaii’s growth as an international destination.
As was the case with the sirens in Greek mythology, these women lured countless people around the world onto the rock – but now, the name of that rock was Oahu (see Figures 1-8).
Ray Jerome Baker
There have been many notable photographers that lived in Hawaii and produced photo postcards of hula girls. I have chosen to highlight one, Ray Jerome Baker, as when I first met Harry Foglietta, Baker’s work was enjoying renewed interest.
Being in the photography business himself, Floyd Fitzpatrick developed a great appreciation for Baker’s work and amassed a substantial collection of his photographs and postcards (see Figure 9). When Schuyler Rumsey auctioned Fitzpatrick’s collection, these lots drew spirited bidding. Following the auction, Harry and I spent a great deal of time looking at and discussing the Baker items we had won – especially the hula girl and surfing postcards.
According to the book, Hawaiian Yesterdays, by Robert Van Dyke and Ronn Ronck, Baker’s first experience visiting the islands was similar to my own. The trip was planned as a two week honeymoon – but he and his wife “fell in love with the islands and stayed for four months”.
Baker was born in the midwest, on a farm north of Rockford, Illinois in 1880. Soon after, his family moved to southern Minnesota. It was there that Ray fell in love with the outdoors, nature, and photography. There are several anecdotes that help explain Baker’s eventual interest in becoming a professional photographer.
In one story, a young man who was working his way through college as a traveling photographer, came to stay on the Baker family farm and photograph it. The man had built a small darkroom in his buggy and the impressionable young Baker became fascinated with this and the man’s work.
Baker went to the University of Minnesota, dropped out after a year and pursued a life as a traveling photographer, just like the young man who visited his farm. He eventually wound up on the west coast and lived for a time in Eureka, California (not too far from the Oregon border).
Here he set up a photography studio and met his wife, Edith. Ray and Edith became friends with Jack London and after returning from Hawaii in 1907, London told them what a wonderful time he had there. So the Bakers decided to go there on their delayed honeymoon in February of 1908.
While in Hawaii, Baker fell in love with the local people and their culture. One of his earliest Hawaiian photographs was of a Hula girl in Honolulu. He turned this image into a postcard and this was one of Harry’s most treasured possessions (see Figure 10).
At this point, I would like to comment on the famous Baker imprint applied to the bottom (obverse) of his postcards. After much study, it became clear to both Harry and myself that Baker printed and imprinted his photo postcards in many small batches.
We know this because there have been many different imprints recorded on the same image. Usually, the wording differs slightly; sometimes the size of the text varies and the photo paper can also be different. This collecting area is ripe for either the real photo or Hawaiian postcard specialist.
During their initial visit, the Bakers decided to live in Hawaii permanently. They returned to California to pack up their things and moved to Honolulu in February of 1909.
After moving back to Hawaii, Baker became friends with the famous Hawaiian photographer James Williams. Williams had so much work that he often asked Baker to help out. This experience would help set the tone for Baker’s career. Over the next several years, his primary occupation was photographing native Hawaiian people in their local environment. This included many hula girls.
One of his most desirable postcards was of a Hawaiian girl dressed in a hula costume, taken in Kohala (on the big island of Hawaii) in 1912 (see Figure 11).
This next two postcards feature a beautiful Hawaiian girl who was photographed by Baker at the request of Dr. Nathaniel B. Emerson. In addition to being a medical doctor, Emerson was also a student and author of Hawaiian mythology.
He desired images of the girl to be used “as a photographic interpretation of Hiiaka, sister of Pele” in one of his upcoming books. The shoot took place in Waimea (island of Kauai) in 1912 and Emerson’s last work, Pele and Hiiaka, was published in 1915 (see Figure 12).
This next postcard is from the same shoot as the card above and was produced at the same time. Please note the different imprint (albeit at an angle). The imprint on the card above is all in upper case lettering; the imprint on the card below is in upper and lower case, utilizes a different font, and has the first line in a larger size of type (see Figure 13).
After the romanticized Hawaiian hula girl became a big thing on the mainland, many fashionable – and independent-minded young white women (often called flappers) – decided they could wear a grass skirt, too.
There exist numerous real photo postcards from the 1920s and 1930s that feature hula girls that are not very Hawaiian looking. These can be fun and add an element of variety to Hawaiiana collections.
Some of the best of these haole hula girl images were created by Ray Baker during an extended series of photo shoots in 1921. Harry liked this series, so I have included a couple to end this post. The woman’s name was Rose Heather – and she was Canadian (see Figures 14 and 15).
So there you have it – a fairly comprehensive overview of one of Harry’s favorite collecting areas. To be taken to a gallery with more hula girl postcards, click here. Please keep in mind, there will be a number of romanticized hula girl images with their breasts exposed!