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Shedrick Pelt wants you to buy his book. And then he wants you to empty it.
Pelt is the author of the just-published District Postcard Views, a book that features about 60 old-fashioned images of landmarks in D.C., with a special focus on sites of historical importance to the city’s Black community. The 5-by-7-inch postcards are all removable, so they can be sent through the mail, old-school.
Pelt cites a friend’s observation that “the book has been made to be its greatest potential at its emptiest.”
Hearing that “made me sit back and appreciate the project from a different vantage point,” Pelt says. “Naturally, I want people to hang on to my art for as long as they can. But this one is going to be different. I hope that every single card hits the road at some point. I’m going to task myself with sending out an entire book.”
Some of the locations Pelt photographed are ones that ordinary tourists might see in D.C.: the World War II Memorial, the Smithsonian Castle, the Dupont Circle Metro, and the National Portrait Gallery. But most are off the beaten path, in D.C.’s historically Black neighborhoods: the True Reformer Building on U Street NW, Founders Library at Howard University, the Nipsey Hussle mural near 9:30 Club, the go-go-playing Metro PCS store in Shaw, the Langston Terrace Dwellings in Northeast, and Anacostia’s Big Chair.
“The Black community here has a very powerful story of building our nation’s capital, brick by brick,” Pelt says. “It breaks my heart to see how much has been taken from them.”
Pelt made a point of visiting all eight wards for the book, and he credits Austin Graff, a D.C. writer, for suggesting some of the landmarks he should visit.
“The city and its culture of grassroots movements has given me an opportunity to expand my understanding of how marginalized people and the subcultures surrounding them are affected by the ebb and flow of society,” Pelt says.
Pelt is originally from Huntsville, Alabama, and when he moved to D.C. about five years ago, he says he “instantly connected with the DMV’s southern sensibilities.” He doesn’t have formal training in photography, but developed his skills during the 10 years he lived in Harlem and later here in the District. Pelt worked in graphic design for clothing brands and spent time photographing concerts and festivals, including New York City’s underground hip-hop scene.
The coronavirus pandemic changed Pelt’s focus, as live entertainment dried up. He’s now a full-time freelancer in D.C.
For the postcard project, Pelt used a medium-format black-and-white film camera, believing that it produced a vintage look that fit his subject matter. He designed the book himself, front to back.
Pelt says one of his favorite images in the book isn’t a century-old building but rather an interior image of the Metro Center station subway platforms. “It captures so much about D.C. in one photo,” he says. “It represents the diversity in the people, the beautiful vision of architects, and how technology has advanced the city.”
The book launch for Shedrick Pelt’s District Postcard Views runs from 5 to 7 p.m. on Feb. 24 at D.C. History Center. Free; register here.