Rallying the Troops
lusitania british_wantyou
gee_iwish bernhardt_warThis is the way to peace, the enemy wishes it!, was a call to buy German
war bonds.

WWI Recruiting Soldiers

At the start of WWI in 1914 there was no draft for the British Army but as newly mechanized war equipment and gas warfare caused huge casualties, it was increasingly difficult to get men to enlist. Posters were used to inspire, or shame, men into joining up.

(above) After the sinking of the ship Lusitania, a report circulated about the discovery of a deceased English mother clutching her child, both innocent victims of the attack. The subsequent poster design needed no explanation for English men to connect between the image and the word ENLIST.


(Above Top)
Alfred Leete's 1914 image of England's Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener, is craftily designed to look as if it is pointing at you from any vantage point.

(Above bottom)
James Montgomery Flagg's 1916 magazine cover of Uncle Sam was circulated on 4 million posters in 1917.



There were dramatic changes in the perception of women's war roles between WWI and WWII. Posters from WWI urge women to stay home and conserve food for the troops or grow victory gardens. They were depicted as weak and too feminine to "Join the Navy." By WW2 women were portrayed by J. Howard Miller's Rosie the Riveter—strong and capable.

The German Call to Arms

The poster above and below were designed by Lucien Bernhard, originator of the Sachplakat poster. His style made a dramatic shift from a clean and modern approach back to a conservative German Gothic motif using both traditional lettering style and images of the motherland. War posters tend to reflect traditional national values that resonate across age and aesthetic differences.



Rallying the People
polish_political silence=death

fairey_obama iraq_war_gas

Polish Political Posters

Poland has a long tradition of posters from WW2 until 1990.
Freedom on the Fence, a documentary project by Andrea Marks, records Polish posters and their significance to the social, political and cultural life of Poland. "Examining the period from WWII through the fall of Communism, Freedom on the Fence captures the paradox of how this unique art form flourished within a Communist regime. The documentary contains interviews with older and younger generations of poster artists, examples of past and current poster work, historic and current film footage of where and how the poster is viewed, and commentaries from both American and Polish scholars and artists on the significance of the Polish poster as a cultural icon" Quote from the Freedom on the Fence web site.

Social Cause Poster

Posters have been used to support the causes or protests of disenfranchised women, Blacks, Latinos, Gays, Native Americans, Environmental Activists and countless other groups. They were especially abundant in the 1960's and 70's when artists would use silk screens to produce strong color fields and bold type at low cost. An instructive You Tube video on screen printing explains the process, including peanut breaks. The Silence = Death poster
1986, Offset lithography
Act up AIDS activists

See also, The Art of Protest
Culture and Activism

Culture and Activism from the Civil Rights Movement to the Streets of Seattle)

Political Posters Today

Shepard Fairey's Obama poster for the 2008 presidential campaign was derived from a photograph taken by Mannie Garcia, a freelance photographer. After much denial almost a year later Fairey admitted that he had fabricated and destroyed evidence of the actual source.

"Photographer Mannie Garcia contended that he retained copyright to the photo according to his AP contract. He said that he was "so proud of the photograph and that Fairey did what he did artistically with it, and the effect it's had," but that he did not "condone people taking things, just because they can, off the Internet."

A comment made on line nicely sums it up, "Here's the thing that is forgotten: photographers are also artists."

The Future of Posters?

Unfortunately there seems no end to the need for messages to counter war, injustice or abuse in the world. However with competition from the internet, television, and lack or available public space, can the poster stay relevant in the 21st century? With wall space disappearing and screen viewing the major media choice, when the term poster more often means a person who posts messages, what next?

If you want to see a good international on line site for the current poster scene visit Rene Wanner's Poster Page.