Double Take II: Finding Posters within Photos

This post is by Daniel Dancis, a Textual Records Archivist and blogger at The Text Message.

When is a photograph more than just a photograph?  

Of the millions of digitized images in the National Archives Catalog it is always a thrill to find something new in an old picture. Even more, discovering a connection between two or more seemingly unrelated images can change how one sees them. Consider for example the similarity between Dorothea Lange’s famous photograph “Migrant Mother” and Xavier Gonzalez’s illustration of a mother and child that appears in a World War II era poster, as seen side-by-side below.  

“Migrant Mother” by Dorothea Lange (NAID 196261). RIGHT: “Buying a Bond is No Sacrifice” by Xavier Gonzalez (NAID 514014, Local ID 44-PA-535).

Finding and identifying posters within photographs is another way to see the past in a new light. 

In the image below, a worker demonstrates soldering during World War II while, hovering in the background, a poster appears prominently enough to be visible and legible. The photograph looks staged so the inclusion of the poster seems like no accident either. The message of the photograph is reinforced through the text in the poster.  

“Soldering Operation Demonstration at Victory Center” (NAID 192810647) and “I’m Proud…my husband wants me to do my part” (NAID 513841, Local ID 44-PA-390).

Other photographs from the same record series also include posters that complement the scenes and likewise seem intentionally, or at least conveniently, included within the frame:  

“Young Woman Working in a Machine Shop” (NAID 7350942); “Americas answer! Production” (NAID 513808, Local ID 44-PA-358) – by Jean Carlu.

The artist Adolph Treidler designed more than one version of a poster that recognized the WOW-Woman Ordnance Worker. The version in the black and white photograph below gives no hint what it might look like in color, but the viewer can extrapolate based on the poster on the left.  

LEFT: “‘The Girl He Left Behind’ is Still Behind Him, She’s a WOW – Woman Ordnance Worker” (NAID 183507535, Local ID 44-PA-388). RIGHT: “A Young Woman Ordnance Worker” (NAID 7351394).

Another image appears below with not one but three posters in the background. In this example, the posters seem to be unconnected to the scene or each other, which makes their inclusion and juxtaposition interesting and perhaps even happenstance, though it really is no surprise that the walls at the Office of War Information, the agency responsible for commissioning posters during World War II, would be adorned with their own posters.

“Theodore R. Poston, head of the Negro Press Section, Office of War Information” (NAID 535824, Local ID 208-NP-4MMM-1).
L to R: “Thank God for American Industry”- Eisenhower (NAID 515555, Local ID 44-PA-1876); “New Zealand Fights” (NAID 44268259, Local ID 44-PF-874a); “Remember Dec. 7” (NAID 513624, Local ID 44-PA-178).

To find even more posters in a single photo, look no further than the following example of a World War I Liberty Bond campaign event in which at least 4 posters are identifiable and probably a few others are included but too difficult to recognize. Can you spot them all? If you need help see Discovering Posters within Photographs – a Case in Point at the History Hub. 

“Liberty Bonds – 4th Campaign – War activities, Ypsilanti, Michigan” (NAID 45493771, Local ID 165-WW-244C-38).

Finally, posters can also be found playing supporting roles in moving images as seen in these stills from The Hidden Army:  

The still images are from time stamps: 8:38-39, 11:28, and 12:42, The Hidden Army (NAID 37003, Local ID 111-WF-25). Posters identified in the film are from the series World War II Posters, 1942 – 1945 (NAID 513498, Local ID 44-PA).

So, when is a photograph more than just a photograph? Hopefully, these examples demonstrate how fun it is to find and identify posters within photos, (and moving images), and that it is also a great way to see them in context. Check out Double Take: Making Visual Connections in the National Archives Catalog to see more great pairings and click here to see more posters within photos from the holdings of the National Archives Catalog.


Thank you to Michael A. Tarabulski, of the National Archives at St. Louis, for discovering the amazing connection in Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother and Xavier Gonzalez’s poster. Thank you to Audrey Amidon for sharing about The Hidden Army.  

6 thoughts on “Double Take II: Finding Posters within Photos

  1. Nice post. Thanks for the shout out.
    I can’t be sure, but because both date from 1943, I suspect that the poster of the dead sailor on the beach, “A Careless Word…A Needless Loss”, on the wall of the Selective Service office in “The Hidden Army”, owes much to Life photographer George Strock’s famous photo “Three Dead Americans on the Beach at Buna.” Here’s something about that photograph Here’s something about the poster

  2. Great investigations. But I am struck by the all white women images.
    It is particularly acute today with a growing awareness and emphasis on diversity, equality and revelations of our true histories.

  3. Thanks for your work, Daniel. I think that adding dates of the images in your text would be helpful to recognize the time elapsed between two similar images.

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