A Lost Art

2010 Conservative Election Poster

In 2010 the Conservative’s produced a series of interesting, but little commented upon, hand drawn posters. In doing so they returned to a much older and perhaps forgotten graphic style. From the 1950s and through the 60s, poster designers began increasingly to favour using photographic images in their creations.   

When assessing the posters of the 1950 general election, a member of the Conservative party’s publicity team stated, “Many commentators have repeated ad nauseum – that the Labour Party’s Jarrow Marchers poster had a deadly effect.” A Conservative agent was also of this opinion, stating that Labour made “very effective use of photographs showing unemployment between the wars, while we relied solely on figures and graphs.” And when summing up of their own campaign Labour reported that “the three-colour photographic posters proved most popular.” Labour used the 1936 Jarrow march – when unemployed men walked from the North East town to London in protest at their plight – to suggest that a vote for the Conservatives would be a vote for a return to the unemployment of the 1930s.

 We found a copy of the Jarrow poster when searching for objects for the exhibition.

Courtesy of the People’s History Museum












In three colours, the poster combines words and the evocative image of the marchers. Not a drawn image, but instead photographic. It was not the first time that pictorial posters had favoured photographs. The Conservative’s 1929 Safety First poster used a photographic, rather than painted, portrait of the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin. While some of the posters produced by the National Government in the 1930s, would also adopt photographic imagery. However, in 1950 there appears to be systematic shift. Images were more likely to be photographs than drawings. Just five years before in 1945, the Daily Mirror cartoonist Philip Zec and surrealist painter John Armstrong drew the majority of Labour’s efforts. Armstrong’s work in particular, of the V for victory rising over the peaceful Britain, was particularly evocative. Armstrong of course appropriating the image from Churchill.        

Courtesy of the People’s History Museum









Zec produced four more posters for Labour in 1950, but his impact was less than in 45. The Conservatives in 1950 produced their own photographic posters, of a Bulldog for instance. And if we think of the most memorable election posters following this date; 1959 and Life’s Better with the Conservatives and of course the famous 1979 Labour isn’t working, it was combinations of photo image and word which seem to generate impact.

It was 1950 when the aesthetic of the poster shifted. The illustration dying, the photo in the ascendancy.  


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