May 12 2011: Let’s Investigate! by Hector Powe (Regent Street Tailor’s Catalogue, 1952)
After the other day’s post on the propaganda of the former GDR, it’s only fair to swing the spotlight around and wonder if the beautiful watercolours featured in this 1952 catalogue produced by Regent Street tailor Hector Powe were any closer to the realities of life in England during the austerity of the immediate post-war period than Jochen Weyer’s idealised portraits reflected the realities of East Germany in 1974.
In both cases, the imagery taps into our desire for a better world: that such style and luxury should be available to us all; that a state of unparallelled social justice should really exist.
These are things we believe ought to be unarguable and simple. The propagandist (and advertiser’s) art lies in the replacement of reality with a conviction that desires can be met, planting a potent sense that all failings are our own, while directing our aspirations towards goals that benefit those paid to persuade us – as Dr Pangloss insisted, despite all evidence to the contrary – that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. If only we would simply accept that were the case and allow ourselves to get on in life as we deserve.
So why, knowing this, is it so hard not to be seduced by these images? Henry Powe’s brochure shows us a monocultural world of rigid hierarchies, conformity, economic apartheid, marginal women and casual deference to inherited authority. We know, deep down, when looking at these pages (or watching Mad Men, for which these pages might be costume sketches) that we’d at best have been the clerks and cleaners, the blokes riding bikes from the factory gates, the women cooking cheap dinners in cold-water terraces.
But still, we are seduced: click on the thumbnails in the gallery below to view the enlarged pages.