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"An Iconography of Contagion" Now Online

Based on Popular Exhibition, Site Showcases 20th-century Public Health Posters

An Iconography of Contagion: A Web Exhibition of 20th-century Health Posters has been launched in a new online version, on the National Library of Medicine (NLM) Web site, at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/iconographyofcontagion/index.html. NLM is the world's largest medical library and an arm of the National Institutes of Health.

The site, which is adapted from the exhibition of the same name, hosted by the National Academy of Sciences in 2008, features more than 20 health posters from the 1920s to the 1990s, from North America, Europe, Asia and Africa. Using images that are by turns beautiful, humorous, jarring and unexpected, they cover infectious diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, AIDS, gonorrhea and syphilis. In pictures, text and captions, An Iconography of Contagion shows the interplay between medical science, politics, public understanding of disease, war, and cultural values and prejudices. It was curated by medical historian Michael Sappol in NLM's History of Medicine Division.

Public health took a visual turn about 100 years ago. In an era of devastating epidemic and endemic infectious disease, health professionals began to organize coordinated campaigns that sought to mobilize public and government action through eye-catching posters, pamphlets and motion pictures. Impressed by the images of mass media that increasingly saturated the world around them, health campaigners 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. They devised a new iconography of contagion that emphasized visual legibility and the pleasure of the view.

Meanwhile, Iconography of Contagion, the physical exhibition, is on tour through Cultural Programs of the National Academy of Sciences. For booking information, please contact Alana Quinn at aquinn@nas.edu and 202.334.2415.

Exhibition Touring Schedule:

September 28, 2009 - January 29, 2010
Global Health Odyssey Museum
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Atlanta, GA

February 15, 2010 - May 28, 2010
Claude Moore Health Sciences Library
University of Virginia
Charlottesville, VA

 

Images from the exhibition:

Atisch. Sadan begynder en Epidemi. (Achoo. Thus begins an epidemic.) Copenhagen, Denmark, 1930s. Lithograph; 62 x 85 cm. Artist: Storm P (Robert Storm Petersen, 1882-1949) Atisch. Sadan begynder en Epidemi. (Achoo. Thus begins an epidemic.) Copenhagen, Denmark, 1930s. Lithograph; 62 x 85 cm. Artist: Storm P (Robert Storm Petersen, 1882-1949)
She may be a bag of TROUBLE. Syphilis - She may be a bag of TROUBLE. Syphilis-- Gonorrhea. U.S. Public Health Service, United States, 1940s. Photomechanical print: color; 41 x 51 cm. Artist: "Christian".
When a fly wipes his feet on your food, he's spreading disease! War Department, U.S. Government Printing Office, United States, 1944. Photomechanical print: When a fly wipes his feet on your food, he's spreading disease! War Department, U.S. Government Printing Office, United States, 1944. Photomechanical print: color; 36 x 51 cm. Artist: Vernon Grant (1902-1990).
Tuberculosis Undiscovered Endangers You Poster Tuberculosis Undiscovered Endangers You: Discover the Unknown Spreaders! National Tuberculosis Association, United States, ca. 1940. Photomechanical print: color; 28 x 39 cm.

For print-quality images, contact Melanie Modlin in the NLM Office of Communications and Public Liaison, mm354i@nih.gov and 301.496.7771.

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