Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1988 (US) by Woody Pirtle to mark its 40th anniversary.

Torture, beatings and the abuse of prisoners by governments because of their beliefs, are some of the horrors Amnesty International was formed to blow the lid off 50 years ago. Along with letter-writing, the poster is one of their weapons

In 1961, London’s Observer newspaper published the Forgotten Prisoners article by lawyer Peter Benenson which kickstarted Amnesty, and last week the newspaper showed a selection of posters which includes a wide range of visual work by Picasso, by former Pentagram designer Woody Pirtle and by ad agency Goodby, Silverstein and Berlin. Martina at Adverblog asks, “I don’t know if the poster created to celebrate the 50th anniversary is as good as its predecessors.” Do some posters look cooler because they have the look and aura of their time? And what makes a successful Amnesty poster? Is there a core visual language that’s most effective in rousing people to action?

La Colombe et le Prisonnier, 1959 A poster with an image donated to Amnesty by Pablo Picasso. Photograph: Succession Picasso/DACS

The naive approach of Miro and Woody Pirtle seem to effectively capture that idea of innocence that works especially well as a contrast to the underlying menace of violence.

Prisoner Of Conscience, 1977 (US) By the Spanish painter Juan Miró to mark the Amnesty year. Photograph: Amnesty International

On the other hand this 1980 poster, The Real Face (which ironically never saw the light of day because of a coup in Turkey) is an eye-grabbing piece referencing pop culture cues such as the mirrorshades and windsurfer to hint at something dark below the surface.

The Real Face of Turkey, 1980 (UK) Poster for the planned Amnesty International Turkey campaign in 1980, which never took place due to the military coup of September 12, 1980. The poster, aimed at potential tourists to the country, wanted to increase awareness of human rights violations in Turkey. Photograph: Amnesty International

Who would you choose to design/create/shoot an Amnesty work?


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