Thursday, April 9, 2009

An Open Letter to Shepard Fairey*

*Apologies in advance to all who find this issue boring.

Dear Mr. Fairey,

This week you posted a new and lengthy comment on your website about the ongoing case between you and AP. As I am referenced (although not by name) as the gallery selling Mannie Garcia’s photograph of Barack Obama and as by now my role in identifying Mannie’s photograph as the source image for your HOPE, PROGRESS, YES WE DID, and BE THE CHANGE posters is well known, there are a few points I would like to clarify.

1. I am a big fan and have great respect for your work.

2. The whole “discovery” process came about as a result of my due diligence researching work for my January 2008 exhibition “Can & Did – Graphics, Art and Photography from the Obama Campaign”. This exhibition featured numerous artists, designers, and photographers in addition to you and Mannie Garcia and the show was not in any way about that dispute.

3. As your wife can tell you based on our e-mail correspondence, I was very upfront about my interest in finding the source image and in working with you or your gallery. As you had credited David Turnley, a friend of mine, as the source photographer for your VOTE poster, I couldn’t understand why you wouldn’t credit the photographer for the justly more famous HOPE and PROGRESS posters.

4. When Mannie Garcia’s photograph was correctly identified as the source I went on record both in my blog and in my discussions with AP to say that I did feel your work was transformative and to recommend they not take an adversarial position. My issue was why Mannie wasn’t credited and why you wouldn’t feel some obligation on an ethical level to acknowledge and recompense Mannie, artist to artist.

5. What really bothered me, however, and continues to bother me is that once the correct picture was identified (Mannie’s full frame shot of Obama’s head and shoulders) you continue to insist that the picture you used was the one of Clooney and Obama. Unless it is part of your legal strategy – making your case based on using a detail of a larger picture rather than the entire picture – it makes no sense as it has been indisputably proven that the full frame head shot is the source. I guarantee this 100%.

6. To prove this once for all, rather than relying on other people’s overlays, after reading your latest post yesterday I had my assistant overlay the two Obama shots over your poster. The results are absolutely conclusive as you will see below. You can do this test yourself if you or any of your assistants care to do it using photoshop.

7. So all I’m asking is for you and your dealer to stop disparaging my and Mannie’s motives or the facts we present. Admit you made a mistake and acknowledge the correct source picture as Mannie’s headshot. As someone who has worked in photography for over 30 years as a picture editor, writer, director of Magnum Photos, and gallery owner it has been my practice to stick up for photographers. That is all this was ever about.


James Danziger

Mannie Garcia's full frame headshot

+ Shepard Fairey's HOPE poster

= this composite which lines up 100% identically - head, shoulders, eyes, expression, etc..

Mannie Garcia's shot of Clooney and Garcia

+ Shepard Fairey's HOPE poster

= this composite where the lines don't match up.


RubyMel said...

I agree wholeheartedly with your commentary. A simple recognition of the photographer would be saving a whole bunch of money being wasted on legal actions. I hope this isn't the whole the art of painting being seen as more valuable than photography.

Nathan said...

"Unless it is part of your legal strategy – making your case based on using a detail of a larger picture rather than the entire picture"

Exactly. More "editing" done by Fairey equals a stronger case for Fairey. The closer the original image is to the poster the harder it will be to make the case for fair use.

Anonymous said...

Newsflash: NOBODY CARES!!!!!!!!!!!

The Year in Pictures said...

Dear Anonymous -

This is shaping up to be the defining fair use copyright case of our time. So you may not care (and I did acknowledge that others might also be bored with the story) but many people do care and the implications for photographers and photography are wide-reaching.


Anonymous said...

You tell him James.

Anonymous said...

I think your position is very courageous. You had the opportunity to do the opposite : bury Mannie Garcia and just sell the Fairey's work, but you didn't . This is about truth and honesty here, and a lot of people (including me) do care about these values.


Anonymous said...

You're right, JD, this is shaping up to be an important case. The "anonymi" among us will care as soon as an image of theirs is appropriated... but for many folks, no one does care. You download music from Limewire, find a first-run movie on bit-torrent, cheat just a weensie bit on your taxes or papers in school... and i don't mean YOU, i mean US... everyone's out for themselves. Well, most people are, anyway. Don't you feel like a sap sometimes, working for a living while so many others seem to effortlessly have it all?

Martin said...

It's all pretty obvious from your examples.
But this case also shows how little people care how they use photographers images.. Not buying, giving a byline or even asking the photographer. It's all pretty sad..

Jennifer said...

It may feel like a tired issue to some, but it is, has been, and will continue to be an important issue. Kudos to you James for respectfully continuing to campaign for the just conclusion.

james griffioen said...

I agree completely with your position.

However, I do feel Fairey makes a point that is at least interesting. Without his appropriation of the work, Garcia's original photo would be worth next to nothing. Now you're selling it for $1200. And there's nothing wrong with that.

But I think it's at least an interesting twist in the whole drama that you have been instrumental in creating through this blog and your gallery. Perhaps it provides some "hope" for those artists whose work has been appropriated to exploit the appropriation for their benefit?

Anonymous said...

The composite that lines up identically actually looks great as a work in itself. Someone figure out a way to sell that!
Michael W

JVK said...

You're really full of hot air Mr. Danziger. Artists have been using the work of others for inspiration and as a starting point for their own work for millenia and there is no reason for them to change how they do the work just for you.

The only obligation an Artist has is to produce the work, everything else is up to the viewer.

Unknown said...

I just asked myself, what is it with the Warhols? Did Warhol credit the Photographers?

Susan Whishaw said...

You are completely correct. It's the principle of the whole thing..... courteous behaviour must become the norm, there is far too little of it these days.
Susan from Canada

deepstructure said...

"My issue was why Mannie wasn’t credited and why you wouldn’t feel some obligation on an ethical level to acknowledge and recompense Mannie, artist to artist."

you lost me at "recompense". this is being argued as an issue of fair use. by definition that means fairey would not need to recompense mannie. i don't understand why fairey didn't credit mannie, but if fair use applies then he was under no obligation to pay him anything.

i don't believe you can on the one hand call for accuracy on his part with regard to the photo being used, but then disregard the very real and ethical aspect of fair use he is claiming - which you ostensibly support in saying you believe his work to be transformative.

i believe defining "ethical" and "fair-use" as separate approaches to this issue is damaging and dangerous.

Anonymous said...

I have to, first of all, that I (rather) disagree with your first point. I find his work a bit childish, but the only thing worse is his behavior. Give credit where credit is due. If he would have followed this advice, I doubt there would have been legal action.

lizballer said...

When I first saw Fairey's poster I thought it was great + he was the artist of an original piece of work. Well no,it was based on a photo..pretty easy to do on photoshop etc. FINE at least give the photographer credit including financial renumeration!If Garcia did not shoot the image,Fairey would not have had a piece to alter. Thanks for keeping the issue alive. Liz