Peter Alma as alma mater of the infographic

Visual education at Sound and Vision The Hague.

Until 25 August 2021, our temporary exhibition features work by no fewer than 66 students from the St. Joost School of Art & Design. They were given the task of representing various media literacy concepts in infographics. Their pieces are in good company: a large mural by Peter Alma adorns the entrance area to our museum. Alma is known as the Dutch pioneer of the infographic, the representation of information.

Peter Alma (Medan 1886 – Amsterdam 1969) was educated at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague. In 1952, he created an impressive mural in the entrance area of our museum. He did this on behalf of the museum on the occasion of opening the renovated building. You can still admire the mural today.

Peter Alma, mural, The Netherlands Postal Museum, 1952

On the wall, you can see the working area of the PTT; the global journey of a letter and the spoken word through postal traffic and telecommunications are depicted. In a fresco-like technique, Alma schematically paints people in their postal, telegraphic or telephonic jobs and the infrastructure that came with them. It takes you past cities and industrial areas. The painting can be read from left to right, with clusters around the postal transport by train and the radio-telegraphic connection with Indonesia, among others. Nevertheless, the picture as a whole can be viewed like a painting and not necessarily as an explanation of the processes. The figures are detailed and beautifully formed, and the saturated and lighter colours create depth. Alma excels in both ways of working, portraying and explaining. 

Alma’s work in the field of explaining via pictures is interesting to look at here because of the temporary exhibition on infographics. He is particularly fascinated by how you can include more meaning in images. In other words, how images can provide more information. He learned this from Otto Neurath (1882-1945) and Gerd Arntz (1900-1988). They are masters of image statistics. An iconic example is Alma’s Het gebruik der telefoon (The use of the telephone), which he was commissioned to produce by the Municipality of Amsterdam. Each telephone stands for 5,000 telephone connections. Each person talking on the phone equals 5,000 calls a day. Here, he illustrates the enormous increase in telephone use in Amsterdam between 1904 and 1934.

Peter Alma (design), Cas Oorthuys (photography), Het gebruik der telefoon (The use of the telephone), 1935

Image statistics have been further developed, and we now call them infographics, graphic representations of information. You know it as graphs with symbols in newspaper articles, short films in news programmes on TV or online; animated as a film or not. You now see many examples with figures around the corona pandemic, the election results or all the facts about sports championships.

This tradition is continued by the St. Joost art academy in Breda and Den Bosch, among others. Second-year students of Illustrated and Animated Storytelling have, at our request, presented various topics within the theme of media literacy as infographics. The course is all about illustration and animation. Short animations are currently the most popular way to absorb information quickly and easily. For example, an instruction manual for an appliance or an instruction on how to assemble a piece of furniture can be viewed conveniently and quickly as a video on the internet. Educational illustrations explain how something works, how something is made, what components or nutrients you find in something. “As long as the image has the leading role and the text the supporting role, it can make a good infographic. The trick is to find a good metaphor,” explains Olivia Ettema. She is an illustrator and teacher and guided the students in this assignment on Visual Education. In this subject, the young illustrators and animators learn to explain information as clearly as possible in pictures. 

During this project, Ettema inspired her students, for example, with the work of Neurath and Arntz, which is almost a century old but still up to date because of its powerful pictograms and symbols. For Sound and Vision, the students studied the concept of media literacy, which is quite a complicated subject to explain. That is why they participated in our workshops on Fake News and the ‘Limit of the Joke’ to get to grips with the subject matter.

Six winners have been chosen, three in the illustration and three in the animation category. These two illustration infographics give a hint of the beautiful results. 

Erna de Vries, Hoe ontstaat een media hype? (How does a media hype happen?) – 2021

Erna de Vries has literally broken down the concept of a media hype into five elements. You “read” this image from left to right. She uses colours and symbols to make these parts clear, which she explains in more detail in the text. What works very well is the metaphor of the megaphone. She aptly portrays the snowball effect of a media hype that keeps growing.

In the image Kayne Mosch made, you can clearly see a movement. Your gaze is led past the notions of ‘I’, ‘they’ and ‘we’, while everything revolves around the life in media that we all live everywhere and always. Mosch creates a lively city as a stage for this mechanism. A stream of social media icons connects people. Newspapers, TV and radio also follow a route. The faces of media makers and users show what it does to them. The visual elements applied by Mosch remarkably evoke Alma’s mural: the depth effect through differences in colour and detail, groups of people, a stream of messages, the dynamics in the image. Peter Alma, for example, turns out to be an alma mater, a school for new infographics!

Kayne Mosch, Leven in Media (Life in Media), 2021Kayne Mosch, Leven in Media, 2021