In the 1750s, gin was seen to be a harmful, dangerous substance which led to moral decay, crime and ultimately death. Painter, printmaker, pictorial satirist and social critic, William Hogarth illustrated this in his print called Gin Lane, which among other things, attributed the consumption of gin with prostitution, murder, child abuse and societal collapse. This is juxtaposed by another print published at the same time called Beer Street, where all the residents are robust and full of vitality; model citizens and harbingers of the future. The reason I called Gin Lane ‘propaganda’ is that the art is clearly designed to promote a particular opinion in the viewer: gin is bad. Such an absolute statement is open to repudiation, even if it’s mostly true all the time or completely true most of the time.
I can’t do justice to the social and political upheavals of the time in this post, but needless to say, there was a lot going on at the time, and for economic and social reasons, gin became the target of a negative advertising campaign, if you will.
Why am I looking at this? Because I was told to. Why was I told to. I don’t know. Perhaps to show us an example of how one can document an area, social group and period of upheaval all in one image or how the artist has the power with their images to skew the opinion of the viewer to suit their needs.
As we move onto our second major brief of the year, which will have a focus on reportage, things will become clearer, I’m sure.