In mid-20th-century America, illustrators worked alongside photographers, videographers, and writers to cover presidential elections.
In the glory days of reportage drawing, publications like Esquire, Look, and Time hired artists like Robert Weaver, Bernie Fuchs, and Norman Rockwell to chronicle key moments in elections and capture the essence of the candidates.
“Photography existed, of course,” says Douglas B. Dowd, faculty director of the new Douglas B. Dowd Modern Graphic History Library at Washington University in St. Louis. “But illustrators could compress time and space into a single image and offer commentary and context.
“The publishers of the Saturday Evening Post were main street Republicans, but the Post did not endorse candidates. In line with the magazine’s stress on Americana, elections were presented as civic religion,” adds Dowd, and professor of art and American culture studies in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Art.
“There was a shift to photography in the 1950s and ’60s, but art directors also were being pressured to come up with new and interesting ways of presenting images,” says Skye Lacerte, curator of the Modern Graphic History Library.
The New Yorker is among the few publications that still features political illustration, but Dowd is starting to see a resurgence online. “Media outlets are always fighting the problem of boredom and similarity,” says Dowd, who admires the work of contemporary illustrators Steve Brodner and Barry Blitt.
“In a world of gazillion photographs—including newly untrustworthy ones, courtesy of Adobe Photoshop–illustration is reasserting its value.”