In design terms, the Tokyo 64 games were the first modern Olympics. A team headed by design critic Masuru Katsumi saw the Games as an opportunity to establish a new design language in Japan, influenced by European modernism. As Parsons associate professor Jilly Traganou, who is writing a history of Olympic design, notes, Tokyo was the first Games to employ a ‘total’ design system, embracing everything from colour, to type to pictograms. Although the latter, created by Yoshiro Yamashita, are rightly heralded for their innovative approach, the Tokyo 64 posters (designed by Yusaku Kamekura) were also notable as being the first to use photography.
For The Start of the Sprinters’ Dash, the second of four official posters Kamekura designed, US servicemen from the Tachikawa Air Base stood in as Olympic athletes with the requisite ethnic mix at the shoot, one wintry night in February 1962. The runners spent hours making false starts in a deserted, darkened stadium while photographer Osamu Hayasaki and photo director Jo Murakoshi attempted to get that perfect shot. Eventually they succeeded and 90,000 copies of what has become one of the most iconic Olympic posters were made.
The role of the Olympic poster has changed over the years. As other forms of communication superceded its promotional role, successive Games began to commission posters as part of wider cultural and artistic programmes. Thus, some of the most famous artists of modern times, including Andy Warhol (Sarajevo 84), David Hockney (Munich 72) and Roy Lichtenstein (LA 84) have produced Olympic posters as, of course, have a selection of British artists for 2012. A V&A touring exhibition, featuring over 100 Olympic posters, is currently at the MCG in Australia.
A Call to the Games: Olympic Posters, is at the National Sports Museum at the MCG, Melbourne, Australia until September 16. nsm.org.au. A book accompanying the touring exhibition, A Century of Olympic Posters (V&A, £19.99), by Margaret Timmers, has just been updated with content from 2012