Jim Young / Reuters
I am completely sympathetic to the reader who posted the comment yesterday "Enough with the Obama stories!", but the Shepard Fairey source mystery is quite a story and has eluded photo watchers for quite a while.
After my post yesterday, Mike Webkist (if that's his real name) came forward with a link to a 2007 story in time.com that credited the photo to Jonathan Daniel of Getty Images. He also showed how the picture was flipped which made the source almost unrecognizable. (See below.)
So I managed to contact Jonathan Daniel who responded that the picture was not his.
Then I contacted TIME where I ended up talking to time.com picture editor Mark Rykoff who was extremely helpful in trying to find the correct attribution. After investigating, he called me back and pointed me to Jim Young of Reuters. (FYI – Time.com have already corrected the credit.)
Reuters are understandably somewhat put out on their own and Young's behalf, but like it or not, Fairey's use of the picture are well within the parameters of "fair use". His transformative use of the image – both in flipping and re-orienting it, adding jacket and tie and the "O" Obama logo, and converting it to his block print style make it consistent with all legal precedents for use. Of course all of this is not to say that some Solomonic out of court settlement would not be appropriate, but at the end of the day I hope it's a win-win situation for everyone.
Perhaps the strangest proof of the transformative nature of Fairey's work is that Young, a D.C. based Reuters photographer was not even aware that the most ubiquitous image of the entire election campaign was based on his picture!
Anyway, mystery solved. It's extraordinary how many people it takes to get to the answer of a question that has eluded me for several months and how a response to this blog helped finally solve the problem. (Score a big one for truth, justice, and the internet.)
Finally, I'm talking to Reuters about editioning Young's print. Sorry to Anon. of "Enough with the Obama stories", but I think we're in for four (or eight) more years!
I was going for perhaps a photo by AP Photo's Dennis Cook from Capitol Hill
Wow, I love that you tracked this down. The transformation made this into an interesting/vibrant/iconic image. However, good to have the original artist known.
You worry too much about authorship and miss the real meaning of images. Pretty soon, you'll be worrying about who owns the light used to make the photographic record.
NICE WORK!! Thanks for posting this!
you have solved a mystery
it's great to know any extra information about iconic images. Very interesting, love your blog
That is fascinating! Never occured to me that it might not be completely original...
Great work! Thanks so much for sharing. I really enjo your blog.
...and now anyone can transform themselves into an Obamicon....
Anon. #1 (January 15, 2009 11:56 AM): Perhaps James is concerned less with ownership and more with crediting the hard work of so many photographers who go uncredited. Recognizing their work and giving responsibility for these images is one way to encourage interesting image-making.
I'm sure if you are an artist yourself you can understand what goes into making images and would certainly hope to be credited (at the least) when it appears in print.
Thank you for this as I posted the illustrative image on both my blogs and did wonder where it originated.
Could you explain what "fair use" parameters you are using to judge that Fairey's transformation of the photo does not cross legal boundaries? As an artist, I understand the struggle between trying to create an image that is immediately recognizable and not stepping on the toes of other artists.
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