HOW POSTERS REFLECT THEIR TIMES

By Bill Dobbins
www.billdobbinsphotography.com

poster is any piece of printed paper designed to be attached to a wall or vertical surface.[1] Typically posters include both textual and graphic elements, although a poster may be either wholly graphical or wholly text. Posters are designed to be both eye-catching and informative. Posters may be used for many purposes. They are a frequent tool of advertisers (particularly of events, musicians, and films), propagandistsprotestors, and other groups trying to communicate a message. Posters are also used for reproductions of artwork, particularly famous works, and are generally low-cost compared to the original artwork. The modern poster, as we know it, however, dates back to the 1840s and 1850s when the printing industry perfected colour lithography and made mass production possible.[2] – Wikipedia

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Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was a master of the poster, using simply and effective graphic design and color to create work that was eye-catching, arresting and memorable.

Posters have a long tradition.  They were used to promote the plays of Shakespeare in the 16th-17th centuries.  They are designed to inform and/or pursade but can also be works of art – as illustrated by the work of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, for example.  But no matter the artist, designer or purpose, effective posters have to have one thing in common: they must register their message quickly and almost instantly.  Unlike a fine art painting, if you have to study a poster to get it’s meaning it has failed to do its job.

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Posters have a century-old tradition. This is a boxing poster promoting a bout featuring John L. Sullivan in 1858.

When you study the history of posters, it is clear they also reflect the history of their times.  When railroads were first established in the 1820s and 1830s, posters where used to attract riders.  A few years later, as the modern bicycle was developed, riding bikes became a huge fad and there were many posters produced to celebrate this “sport” and to increase sales.  The same thing happened when automobiles became available.  Posters were a major source of advertising with companies as diverse as Mercedes, Duesenberg, Ford and Ferrari.

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There have been few revolutions as impactful on the world as the development of railroad transportation. Individual trains became famous and were celebrated in posters.
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It is obvious that posters to promote automobile sales go back to the time when cars were first being produced and sold.

As new technology has changed the country, posters have been created to reflect these developments.  First the railroads, then bicycles, automobiles and airplanes appeared as the subject for posters to inform, celebrate and persuade depending on the purpose of the individual poster.

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The development of commercial air travel was also a cultural revolution. This poster celebrates the fact that aircraft allowed passengers to cross the Pacific in a matter of hours rather than weeks.
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It is likely that as soon as two cars were put on the the road, the drivers decided to have a race. Certainly auto racing started very early in the development of the car. And there were always posters to promote and advertise racing events.

Whenever there is a war, you will find  propaganda posters – to promote patriotism, increase morale and above all increase recruitment.  Both sides do it and with an “ends justify the means” approach, an adherence to the facts and the truth is not usually necessary.

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“Remember the Maine!” The sinking of this US ship probably did not happen because of enemy action, but it helped convince the American public to support the Spanish-American war.
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Posters have been associated with wars for ages. This one from WWI has a very clear, but not very subtle, message.
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A recruiting poster from WWII.
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Propaganda during WWII in Nazi Germany included a lot of simple, graphic and effective poster designs.

A good example of posters reflecting the evolution of culture is the psychedelic poster of the 1960s.  This resulted in a whole new design style that not only appeared in posters but also on record covers, in advertising, and also influenced many fine artists of the time.

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In the 1960s, psychedelic posters flourished, urging young people to turn on, tune in and drop out.

Posters can also be a vehicle for changing public views on everything from auto safety to smoking.  Some of these posters can be disturbing or very controversial, but it is hard to know in advance if they will be effective as propaganda or not.

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The anti-smoking movement generated its share of promotional posters.
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A poster promoting a radical version of feminism.
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The poster as social engineering – promoting the need to wear a seat belt.

Show business of all types has always relied on promotion using posters.  The posters of Toulouse-Lautrec had that purpose.  P.T. Barnum, one of the great promoters of all times, sunk a lot of resources into posters to publicize his various enterprises.

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“There’s a sucker born every minute.” When Barnum needed to get people to move through and leave his museum more quickly, he replaced the exit sign with one that read: “This Way To The Egress.”

Theater of all sorts in bygone days – everything from the Folies Bergere to vaudville to minstrel shows, -used posters for promotion.  Of course, once the movie industry developed it followed the same sorts of strategies.  There are movie posters so powerful that when people think of a certain film they tend to picture the poster rather than an actual scene from the movie.

900_Folies Bergere Fleur de Lotus Poster

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In the days before television, all of America went to the movies on a weekly basis – so posters advertising movies were very important.
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The modern practice of spending millions of dollars to advertise movies began in the 1970s – and the popularity of Jaws helped to make this happen. One look at this poster design and you immediately understand what the movie is about.

Posters have always been a way for the travel industry to promote interest in all sorts of destinations and locations.  Sometimes the image being communicated was a truthful representation of what the traveler would experience, and sometimes not. Both land sales in both California and Florida were fueled to a great deal by posters promoting the beauty and the weather to potential buyers in harsher and colder climates.

1955 Southern California. United Air Lines poster by Stan Galli
Travel posters have always been with us. The idea is to show an image that presents an ideal vision of the travel destination. Whether true or not.
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This poster is obviously promoting more than relaxing on the beach in Florida.

The use of posters to promote political figures is an long-standing tradition.  This is especially true in authoritarian regimes where the head of state is treated more like a god than a government leader – not unlike the ancient Egyptians believing the Pharaoh was a diety.

But even in modern democracies posters can be an important of the political process.  An  example is the “Hope” poster of Barack Obama, which quickly became iconic.

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The Nazi’s were highly skilled when it came to propaganda and turned out many posters to help promote their views and cause.
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The Soviet Union under Stalin made energetic use of posters.
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The difference in how a democracy portrays its leaders compared to dictatorships is obvious.
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This poster of Barack Obama is an iconic example of a poster that become iconic.

DECLINE AND REBITH: Challenged by newer modes of advertising, the poster as a communicative form began to decline after the First World War. Civic groups had long assailed the poster, arguing that the form made public spaces ugly. But the real threat to posters came from newer forms of advertising. Mass-market magazines, radio and later television, and bill-boards all cut into advertiser’s marketing budgets. While posters continued to be made and advertised products, they were no longer considered a primary form of advertising. More and more, posters purpose shifted toward political and decorative uses.

Indeed, by the mid 1960s, posters were reborn as part of a broader counter-cultural shift. By 1968 the poster craze was described as “half way between a passing fashion and a form of mass hysteria.” [9]Sometimes called a “second golden age” or “postermania”[10]however, this resurgence of popularity saw posters used as decoration and self-expression as much as public protest or advertising.[11] – Wikipedia

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Bill Dobbins Sarah Lyons dressing room-SMALL-1

Bill Dobbins is a professional photographer, videographer and writer based in Los Angeles.  His work has been exhibited his fine art in two museums, a number of galleries, and has published eight books, including two fine art photo books:

The Women: Photographs of The Top Female Bodybuilders (Artisan)
Modern Amazons (Taschen)

WEBSITES

BILL DOBBINS PHOTOGRAPHY
www.billdobbinsphotography.com

BILL DOBBINS ART
www.billdobbinsart.com

FEMALE PHYSIQUE SITES
www.billdobbins.com

EMAIL: billdobbinsphoto@gmail.com

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A poster whose purpose is to influence seal norms – promoting contraception
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Poster of John Lennon from a photo by legendary photographer Richard Avedon.
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During WWII, with so many men in the service, an effort was made to get women to contribute to the war effort.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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