The Latest Obama Hope Poster News

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It’s been a busy couple of days on the Shepard Fairey iconic Obama Hope poster (IOHP) front. Some quick updates:

• Shepard Fairey got arrested in Boston. Yawn. Just the cost of doing business when you’re a radical street artist sticking it to the Man.

• Mannie Garcia, the photographer who took the photo that Fairey used in the IOHP says he owns the image, not the Associated Press. And he doesn’t care that Fairey used it. Garcia: “This is not just some artist who ripped something off. It’s more unique and more complicated than that. This is about the 44th President of the United States. I am not going to do anything to subvert this presidency.” Whoa—if Obama’s success really does rest on the fate of this poster, we really are in trouble.

• And now Fairey is suing the AP. Fairey’s lawyers say the IOHP was not a rip-off but rather a “stunning, abstracted and idealized visual image that created powerful new meaning.”For more on that idea, I’d like to turn the floor over to a couple of creative types. Going first is Mother Jones‘ creative director Tim Luddy:

I disagree with the argument that Shepard Fairey’s use of Mannie Garcia’s photo of Barack Obama is transformative; I’d call it derivative, and exploitive. Fair Use is complicated, but one aspect to be considered is “the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.” AP photographers make a living from their work being used in many different contexts, and those photographs are promoted by the AP in various media for the sole purpose of their rights being leased.

One thing that ticks me off is Fairey’s contention that “the purpose of the photograph documented the day’s events while Fairey’s art…was meant ‘to inspire, convince and convey the power of Obama’s ideals, as well as his potential as a leader, through graphic metaphor.'” This strikes me as a typical fine artist’s attitude, that commercial photography and illustration is a dumbed-down, commercial, and less exalted version of what they do. I would argue that that photo was taken and/or edited from a larger photo shoot with the specific intent that it be bought and used by art directors who wished to “inspire, convince and convey the power of Obama’s ideals, as well as his potential as a leader.”

And the second take is from another master of design, Milton Glaser, who told Print magazine:

For myself—this is subjective—I find the relationship between Fairey’s work
and his sources discomforting. Nothing substantial has been added. In
my own case, when I did the Dylan poster, I acknowledged using
Duchamp’s profile as an influence. I think unless you’re modifying it
and making it your own, you’re on very tenuous ground. It’s a
dangerous example for students, if they see that appropriating people’s
work is the path to success. Simply reproducing the work of others robs
you of your imagination and form-making abilities. You’re not
developing the muscularity you need to invent your own ideas.

In other words, Shepard Fairey may have a posse, but he’s a lightweight. Now let’s see what the judge thinks.


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