What Fantasy Art Looked Like Before Photoshop

In 1908, while photos themselves were still in their relative infancy, a moderately successful photographer began making 'Tall Tale Postcards.' He rapidly became one of America's first, and most successful, fantasy artists.

William "Dad" Martin took over a photography studio in Ottawa, Kansas in 1894. His stock in trade was taking photos of the locals for their families, and portraits of the town fathers to be displayed in City Hall. After over a decade of staid photography, he began to move out of the studio. Inspired by the Paul Bunyan legends, which made the heartland of America into a source of endless, and gigantic, bounty, he attempted a few trick-photography postcards inspired by American tall tales. Instead of giant blue oxes, he made giant geese. He showed fishermen angling for giant fish, and farmers carting log-sized corn, and making tomatoes so big they had to be cut with saws.

What Fantasy Art Looked Like Before PhotoshopS


These postcards became big business. It was said that whole trains were rolling out of Ottawa loaded with postcards, and they were selling at a rate 10,000 a day, nation-wide. Martin took many popular pictures, joined by another famous Tall Tale photographer, Alfred Stanley Johnson, but eventually the Utopian dream of the early twentieth century paled at the start of World War I, and gave way to The Lost Generation. Tall Tales were not in fashion anymore, and photographs like this faded away - until the internet.

Check out more of Martin's Work at The American Museum of Photography.