Selected Graphic Images

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Graphic images have enormous power to inform and to excite. Perhaps it is this unusual combination that makes them so interesting -- they tend to do both at once.

From Edward Tufte's The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (1983). (Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press; available from Amazon Books):

Minard's map of Napoleon's 1812 rout from Russia (1861)

This compelling map, brought to public attention again by Edward Tufte, was drawn by French engineer Charles Joseph Minard to depict the crushing defeat of Napoleon's army as it first marched on and then retreated from Moscow in the winter of 1812-13. The combination of human drama, multivariate information, and minimal extraneous data all enhance its effect. As Tufte notes, "It may be the best statistical graphic ever drawn."

Snow's plot of cholera cases against pump locations, London, 1854

John Snow, Queen Victoria's anaesthesiologist, is widely credited with contributing to the advancement of public health and discerning the germ theory of disease through his visualization of the incidence of cholera cases in a particular London neighborhood and plotting those on a "dot map" of cases and their location in relation to pumps. When the handle was removed from the Broad Street pump, the number of cases fell dramatically. But, as Tufte notes in his latest book (Visual Explanations, 1997, Graphics Press), the issue may not be that simple. Snow's graphic fell short on a number of counts, especially that of comparing incidence of the disease with the size of the population in given neighborhoods. Nonetheless, Snow did figure out the relationship between contaminated water and cholera incidence, and this depiction played a role.

From Maurice Rickards' Posters of the First World War (New York: Walker & Co., 1968 [out of print])

Jules Abel Faivre's "On les aura!" ("We'll get 'em!")

The romantic image of war as an innocent contest among idealistic youth is captured supremely in this 1916 example from France, which not coincidentally also encourages the viewer to subscribe to the Second National Defense Loan. Similar messages from later in the war played down youthful valor and emphasized steadfastness, determination, and heroic suffering in the face of nearly unbearable conditions.

Fred Spear's Enlist [following the sinking of the Lusitania, 1915]

The power of images to trigger emotions was used extensively by British and American artists during World War I, especially in ways that made the German opponents seem like animals or sub-humans. This example, drawing as it does on feelings of protectiveness toward mother and child, and pairing these with the revulsion at the sinking of a British liner on which American neutrals were passengers, was especially potent in the American context. Rickards calls it "perhaps the most powerful of all war posters."

Joseph Pennell depicts the Statue of Liberty in ruins following German bomber and submarine raids

Here again, the possibility of war coming to American shores is played for maximum effect by showing the imagined destruction of a cherished national symbol. In the early years of this century, that possibility might have seemed especially horrendous to a population that still included a large number of first-generation immigrants who had themselves seen the Statue on arrival in New York. Or perhaps the artist was trying to use this suggestion as a way of emphasizing the need for all Americans to unite against a "common" enemy. As "For Your Country," a popular song of the period stressed,

"Now it matters not from where you came,
We are all the same!"

J. C. Leyendecker's Boy Scout offering sword to revivified Statue

At last, liberty resurgent, we are treated to the pure spirit of America's youth enlisted in the effort to sell war bonds. Note the combination of symbols: the Statue herself, clad in the flag, shielded by the national seal, and taking up a sword engraved with the Boy Scout motto.

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Stephen T Kerr
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