POSTER MANIA

04 March 2007
Ebrahim Haghighi
Ebrahim Haghighi


 
It's been a few years that poster design and display in various exhibitions has turned an epidemic among young designers. Affected by this trend, managers and exhibition organisers alike regard these exhibitions with favour. This acute poster mania has entangled a large group of designers; a subject worth a review.

Designing posters for display in exhibitions with topics suggested by clients such as Poster for Poster, Fifth Color, Positive/Negative, Chahar Mikh, Arge Bam and the most recent and biggest of all, the Fifth Generation (and many others that I do not remember) with awards or without has become so widespread as if subjects such as logo design, page layout, illustration, and book and magazine cover design do not exist in Iran at all or they only belong to those who earn a living by them and they have nothing to do with poster designers that create single-copy posters. That they are merely employed by clients to execute whatever clients needed and are not among intellectual artists and poster designers.

The other strange incidence is the emergence of a new form of art called typography. It is not clear whether it is painting or sculpture, graphic design or photography, cinema or video art. It may encompass all or may be independent and self sufficient with its own set of principles and techniques. Does every work produced by calligraphy, penmanship or fonts classify as typography? How can we distinguish that it is not a work of graphic design or painting? By which rule or principle has this new labelling been indited or defined? The present article attempts to seek new meaning or consent on common understanding; to free from confusion or perhaps propose the joint manifesto of a group of poster designers.

Reproduction is one main characteristic of posters and a distinct difference from paintings. According to the old academic definition if we categorise posters into two types of one serving the culture and the other the trade (with the awareness that all trade activities including posters have direct and undeniable effect on culture) in each of these categories two types of activity takes place based on the order. The first type announces the presence of a particular commodity in specific time and place. For example, all exhibitions, films, shows or festivals happen in a special place for a limited time or commercial-industrial commodities are sold in a special place a certain time.

The second type does not determine a special or limited time and place for the product or subject. This seemingly timeless placeless type has a wider stretch of time and place than the first type. Because it happens at a specific geographical area of a language or culture somewhere in the world, in a passing season of history, while a generation is present or during some kind of a transient event. These posters are informative, warning, decorative, educational, political, ceremonial and traditionally related, culture or may be advertising a consumer product famous and widely used. All of the types accounted require abundance and proliferation as premise to establish communication.

What has happened and increasingly growing though is the evermore appearance of single unit posters that we see only in exhibitions, then in the exhibition book or catalogue and later as book cover which is the motive for writing this article.

Poster was created in society because of technology advancement and fast moving vehicles that people ride in. It was born out of signs and gradually evolved to bigger signs and billboards. The speedier the vehicles became the larger the posters (billboards) grew. Small posters therefore, should embody a new sphere of conduct appropriate with the slower viewer that is walking or sitting.

The subjects therefore need to be distinguished behaviourally, expressively or better say visually; those that speak softly by image and text and those that shout. And the volume of visual sound is only defined by the poster or billboard dimensions (never mind that some billboards despite being huge may be stuttering!). With this significant course of change in form, small posters found their own special subjects and audience, at times even due to the subject or the client's economic vigor.

No longer are larger written texts or bright colors conditions for better display of posters. This academic definition has become quite outdated and it may only be attributed to billboards. I have doubts about that too, because when an advertising campaign succeeds at engraving on people's minds a certain color, text, image or slogan in a defined geographical location in a long but limited time, that identification code acts on its own and need not be displayed in physically large dimensions of visual elements. The code does not necessarily need to be brilliant to be broken or to occupy the entire physical area of the poster.

With this definition, small posters are whisperers for small groups. They are to be viewed from short distances behind windows or gallery walls, in coffee shops, book stores, institutions and offices for the seated or walkers. For those with more time to understand the visual-textual rhetoric and with no hurry to leave.

The other wonderful incidence of the late 20 and early 21 centuries in the change or growth in visual understanding of urban societies by mass media growth that has inevitably affected the young and the old, gaining control over their behaviours by presenting popularised coding. More importantly, the contemporary technological tools directly affecting the nature and function of posters (in every dimension) are computers and printers. Without presence of any of these tools this change in form would have been impossible. What has this presence however yielded that posters are inclined towards becoming works of art? And designers boast about being artists. First, those with artistic talent in graphic design who are involved and familiar with imagery found the chance to have software programs on the table of their small rooms in lieu of several equipments, dark room, chemical materials and variety of paper, ruler, glue, pen and pencils. Secondly, it is the improved technique and quality of printing papers. Whether technology has brought about change in the production of posters in large size and volume, it is not the topic of this article. Our issue involved the possibilities that avail for production and print of single unit posters. The addition of scanners and digital cameras to this collection assist a poster designer for speedier production otherwise their presence or absence does not affect visual expression. Jean Luc Goddard predicted a day when camera would act as pen in the hands of the filmmaker. If digital technology is helping this to happen the presence of computers as pen can be traced in every field of art.

Today if only a handful of our painters create paintings with computer, soon the next generation will dispose use of traditional tools and make its small desktop painting workshop more complete. Just like photographers and filmmakers who initiated that first although the pioneers of the profession wailed and offered advice.

In this article I will try to avoid using the word 'designers' or 'artist' because we are witness to production of designs by many not necessarily designers or artists at all. The possibilities in general have given poster makers freedom of action to design personal posters (self-ordered) or to have hasty presence in all invitations (perhaps because of the honor and nature of painting in our culture it is yet unable to accommodate broad popular presence as graphic design, cinema and photography have attained).

In addition to the widespread and immediate presence of producers the opportunity has prevailed for groups, associations, planners, and government managers to initiate independently or call for poster design on every occasion. This trend in general has pushed exhibition posters towards single production. They are not bound by reproductions and they perceive and exhibit themselves as artwork because they are free from date or place announcement and can elaborate on an all time all place contexts. But whether or not these exhibited posters wit versatile social and culture themes are capable of being called artworks in dubious.

So without obliging ourselves to creation of artistic posters it only suffices to set aside the pre-learned old definitions and principles of poster design and reach a new recount only for the word 'poster' in the general sense. A poster does not necessarily have to speak out loud. It can also not mesmerise the passer by. It is only enough to softly (even whisperingly) speak up (especially if it is a gracious statement). And it does not need mass audience either. We've seen that in extreme cases of poster designs even illegibility and stuttering is welcomed by some. By observing these principles or rather, ignoring the old defined rules everyone can become a poster designer.

With all the produced posters, hanging on exhibition walls or in catalogues and those not on the city walls, have we succeeded at shifting part of the great duty of artistic communication that we know of in painting on the shoulders of poster? Have we been able to confide the least with a unanimous companion? Have we agreed with a new companion on narration of our joy or lament? In showing our repugnance of was mongers and love for peace seekers to what extent have we been victoriously present?

Is our limited audience present in galleries enough for this many expression of human and social contexts? Wasn't it so that in the beginning of the 20 century the whole aim of artists was to rid themselves of the limitations of small places and go among people? Wasn't it the prolific nature of posters that made it the distinct art of century? Doesn't suppression of the reproductive nature of posters to accept presence of single unit posters defeat the purpose?

Does resorting to production of single printed works with little audience suggest a social need that we've failed to recognise? Or does it tell of an oversight on a contemporary graphic design shortcoming that we do not desire to find an express? If we desire to be called artists why are we pursuing the easy way of computers and softwares and printers? Where does the need to be called artist originate from? Is it the lack of success in designing the many types of graphic works for various orders of the urban society the cause of this or inability to communicate correctly with the client? In these posters we put aside the client and replace him with ourselves. In our small rooms with our ever smaller computers we convert great human contexts into large posters and hang them on the lofty walls of large and small galleries so to confabulate with our small audience a little; littler than a bird's chirp.



This article originally appeared in Neshan magazine, 11 (Autumn 2006). It is reprinted with the permission of the author.