Students will discuss the purpose and core elements of a poster and investigate how public health posters have evolved over time and in different countries.
The modern poster dates back to 1870 when the printing industry perfected colour lithography and made their mass production possible. Posters have been used for advertising products and events, and governments have used them for recruiting and health messages. In the 1960s, posters were used extensively by protest movements. The messages contained in posters are usually condensed and succinct, appealing to the values of the audience and often reflecting the zeitgeist of the time.
Discuss as a class the kinds of posters that exist in our society (examples might include movie posters, government-endorsed messages about road accidents, advertisements for concerts, advertising billboards, classroom rules, anti-littering signs, posters of sporting or pop-culture icons).
Collect some sample posters.
- type of message (advertising, educational, aesthetic, educational, seeking behavioural change, propaganda, motivational, or combination of these elements or others)
- impact in terms of promoting behaviour change.
- Which posters have appeal or impact for the viewer?
- To what extent are appeal and impact different concepts?
- To what extent do the various aspects of the poster (typeface size and style, design, imagery, colour, symbolism, message, content, etc) influence the appeal and impact?
About a century ago, governments and public health professionals began to organise campaigns to change attitudes and behaviours in regard to health. They were:
. . . inspired to present new figures of contagion, and recycle old ones, using modernist aesthetics, graphic manipulations, humor, dramatic lighting, painterly abstraction, distortions of perspective, and other visual strategies.
Health campaigns had to compete with billboard advertising, comic strips, monthly magazines, tabloids, animated cartoons, pulp fiction, Hollywood, and later television. The designers and artists who were recruited for such campaigns came out of the same commercial visual culture. They devised a new iconography of contagion that emphasized visual legibility and the pleasure of the view.
An Iconography of Contagion, US National Library of Medicine
Campaigns were created to address health issues of the day – with influenza and tuberculosis as significant early focuses. Over decades, sanitation, unclean water, HIV/AIDS and SARs have all been the focus of poster campaigns in a number of countries around the world.
Review the images and read the essay in The Iconography of Contagion.
Write a short review of the exhibition.
Respond to the exploration of public health posters by creating your own, or curating an exhibition of malaria posters.
Choose one of the following options.
1. Create a poster to raise awareness of an aspect of the fight against malaria around the world. The following bullet points may be helpful.
- Decide on a theme. (The theme of World Malaria Day may be a good starting point.)
- Locate the latest information. (A source may be the World Health Organisation. In 2011, the World Malaria Report 2011 Fact Sheet has a summary of progress for that year. This may help in selecting a theme for the poster.)
- Consider the purpose, audience and the impact you wish to have on them.
- Consider all elements including selection of media and techniques, design, words and/or images. The Iconography of Contagion provides interesting historical reference points.
2. Create an exhibition of malaria posters.
Hans Zinsser in his classic 1934 book, Rats, Lice and History wrote:
Infectious disease is one of the great tragedies of living things – the struggle for existence between different forms of life.
This struggle has inspired the imagination and creativity of visual artists who have portrayed this continuing saga in many ways over the centuries.
Create your own exhibition, using malaria posters as a focus, exploring the ways in which malaria has been depicted in different countries and in differing time periods.
Ensure that each poster has an exhibit label. The label may help explain why the poster has been selected for the exhibition, as well as providing background information. For more information about this topic, see Writing Exhibit Labels on the Museum Professionals website.