Power in Pictures

You can find them anywhere: social media, posters, billboards, TV, and magazines (yeah, those are still a thing). Pictures are powerful in that they can hold a deep meaning and deliver messages without using any words. This method dates back, most notably, to the old war posters like the famous image of Uncle Sam in 1917–but they didn’t stop there!

Image: I Want You for U.S. Army by James Montgomery Flagg

The poster was created in 1917 by illustrator James Montgomery Flagg (The Most Famous Poster). The poster was one of many he created for the First World War and it was used again in World War II. This poster was posted all over the country to help recruit for the war.

The portrait of “Uncle Sam” pointing and saying “I want YOU for U.S. Army” is clearly recruiting men to join the Army for the war going on over in Germany. The strength of “Uncle Sam” pointing at you portrays the seriousness and real need for you to serve the country. The colors of red, white, and blue help to further bring out your feeling of patriotism.

The artist used realism instead of animation for “Uncle Sam” to retain the strength and seriousness of the message; the shadowing under the hoods of his eyes further this point. The poster is simple and effective.

The two main elements of this poster are the stylized and differentiated text emphasizing “YOU” and the negative space, or white background, making the patriotic “Uncle Sam” pop out at you. This poster was very successful, over 4 million posters were printed in the first year and it was used again later for the Second World War (The Most Famous Poster).

Image: War is Madness by Seymour Chwast

The “War is Madness” poster was created by Seymour Chwast in 1986 (Wanner, 2005). The title of the poster implies a call for peace, a truce to end the war between Japan and the United States.

The image appears to be of a Japanese man with two bombs coming in from the US and one bomb going back in the other direction. This image gives the idea that the US sent two bombs and the consequence was a full on war with Japan. The white symbolizes peace in a time of war.

The man in the poster appears angry with the depth of the lines on his face. The darkness and textures represent the seriousness and harshness of war. Seymour utilizes negative space with the black background and white bombs.

The use of shapes and negative space with the bombs as well as the white “color” (bombs and text) stand out as the top elements of this poster. The bombs represent war, while white represents peace or surrender. There is not a lot of information on this poster so I would say this poster was not successful. The message was not spread like wildfire as it was with the other two posters in this assignment.

Image: Hope by Shepard Fairey

Shepard Fairey created the Hope poster in 2008 to represent hope for a better future. Barrack Obama was a presidential candidate at the time who represented change (good or bad).

The message in the poster is clear by the large, bold text “HOPE”, which is what Fairey believed Barrack Obama represented. Fairey was inspired by a photo he found online of Obama and decided to create a positive poster—rather than his usual negative approach about the candidate he does not like (Pop). The message was to inspire people to vote for Obama.

Fairey didn’t use any natural skin color and instead used patriotic colors throughout the poster. Fairey said, “I wanted to make an image that deracialized Obama, where he’s not a black man, but a nationalized man”; also, effectively idolizing Obama (Pop).

The Hope poster utilizes color to convey a message of patriotism. The poster also uses stylized text to put emphasis on “HOPE” in big, bold, capitalized letters. This poster was successful within the crowd that supported Obama. However, the poster had a negative response from those who opposed him; the image portrays him as an idol, bringing back thoughts of Hitler’s posters and statues.


Wanner, R. (2005, September 15). The Graphic Imperative exhibition in Boston. Retrieved July 11, 2015 from http://www.posterpage.ch/exhib/ex131imp/ex131imp.htm

Pop, I. (n.d.). Shepard Fairey. Retrieved July 11, 2015, from http://www.interviewmagazine.com/art/shepard-fairey#_

The Most Famous Poster. (2010, July 27). American Treasures of the Library of Congress. Retrieved July 11, 2015, from http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/treasures/trm015.html

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