'Target London' portrait poster using photomontage and text. From a set of 18 colour A3 posters by Peter Kennard produced by the Greater London Council (GLC) in 1985. This title page uses the same image from the presentation box of a skeleton holding a 'Protect and Survive' leaflet, half length visible through a whole burnt in a map of London. Text in red and black with the title at the top 'Target London / A Set of Photomontage Posters on Civil Defence / in London by Peter Kennard'. The first O of London replaced with a red target. Further text in red below.
One of a set of 18 posters commissioned from Peter Kennard by the Greater London Council in 1985, to explain to Londoners the impossibility of London surviving a nuclear attack. Produced using photomontage and text taken from official and academic sources, the photolithograph posters use hard-hitting imagery and descriptions to make clear the devastating impact of a nuclear attack on the capital.
The posters address recommendations made in a government pamphlet ‘Protect and Survive’ prepared in 1980 alongside ‘Operation Square Leg’, an exercise to evaluate the effects of a nuclear attack on Britain. Using carefully cited text from this advice alongside academic and official documents – from scientists, doctors, nurses and the government – the posters make clear the horrific impacts such an attack would have, dealing with injury, death, destruction of property and infrastructure. They simultaneously therefore strongly promote the GLC’s policy to make London a Nuclear Free Zone, with the fifteenth poster perhaps the most vocal ‘You are now entering a nuclear free zone. All cruise missiles must wear a muzzle and be sent back to their owner.’ The final poster ‘Your Voice?’ starkly describes what would be the usual experience of anyone surviving an attack, and visually asks viewers whether this is what they voted for.
Kennard is one of the UK’s most important political artists and a leading practitioner of photomontage with a 50-year career raising questions about war, technology and climate impacts. He is best known for transposing cruise missiles into John Constable’s painting The Haywain – an image used in poster 5 of this series – and for Photo Op, an iconic image produced in collaboration with Cat Phillipps in 2003, picturing Tony Blair taking a selfie in front of burning oil wells, in criticism of the Iraq War.
These posters vividly demonstrate the power of imagery to communicate difficult, complex and unpopular messages. As described by legendary historian EP Thompson on the posters’ box, ‘The truth is not only about that terrible possible future, it is also about the hypocrisy and the evasion in the discourse of our own times … It is only when a gifted artist such as Peter Kennard exposes this to full view that we are able to imagine what we know.’