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Blog: Did Fairey Steal The Magic?

He may not owe AP anything, but that doesn't mean the image is his alone.

Amid the thicket of legal issues surrounding the recent Shepard Fairey/Associated Press dispute over rights to the iconic "Hope" image, I can't help but think that we seem to have missed a fairly simply point. Fairey may not owe the AP anything, but he certainly owes the photographer responsible for the image something. I'm not talking about a cut of the profits or shared ownership of the rights – just an acknowledgment of the artist who originally captured Obama in that moment.

When I finally saw the two images side by side – the photograph, taken by photographer Mannie Garcia and Fairey's subsequent interpretation of it – I was struck by how little the original had actually been altered. Though Fairey's attorney contends that Fairey only used the photo as a reference and transformed it into "a stunning, abstracted and idealized visual image that created powerful new meaning and conveys a radically different message," the transcendent solemnity that gives the image its power is fully evident in the original photograph.

Fairey may have had the vision to immortalize the image, but it was Garcia who had the prescience to immortalize the moment. Why did it take a lawsuit for this photograph and its provenance to become public knowledge? If Fairey's talent as an artist lies within his ability to abstract and idealize existing imagery, then why is he so unwilling to openly reference his sources? In this case, I think Fairey should have given credit where credit is due and that he should have done so long before lawyers became involved.

Feb 10, 2009: This post has been updated.

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72 comments on the article “Blog: Did Fairey Steal The Magic?”

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gregor us

I completely agree. Fairey has a long history of appropriating work from historical sources. But this photog is his contemporary and it wouldn't take anything from him to give the poor guy some cred.

gregor us

I completely agree. Fairey has a long history of appropriating work from historical sources. But this photog is his contemporary and it wouldn't take anything from him to give the poor guy some cred.

Anonymous

Shamelessly stealing photographs and iconifying is his shtick. I never heard of this Mannie Garcia character before. What more 'cred' could he ask for?

Anonymous

Shamelessly stealing photographs and iconifying is his shtick. I never heard of this Mannie Garcia character before. What more 'cred' could he ask for?

Anonymous

Plagiarism is what Fairey does. He has promoted and enriched himself for years off the work of others. http://www.art-for-a-change.com/Obey/index.htm

Anonymous

Plagiarism is what Fairey does. He has promoted and enriched himself for years off the work of others. http://www.art-for-a-change.com/Obey/index.htm

Anonymous

In honor of Mr. Fairey I am contributing this comment from an essay about his work without giving credit to the author. “For those that don’t know, here’s the 101 on how Fairey (and many others) create their art: 1) He looks through old books of political posters, photos, etc. and finds something he likes aesthetically, usually images that appear iconic of certain political motifs and therefore seem “authentic,” i.e. fists in the air, rifles, representations of ideology like red stars, people of color, etc. (I suspect that for years he was using the book Prop Art by Gary Yanker as his primary source, as every other page contains an image he has taken, but he’s clearly moved on to other sources.) 2) He scans the image and runs it through a set of Photoshop or Illustrator filters that usually slightly soften the edges, change the colors, flatten the image if it has any depth. 3) He might remove sections of the background and introduce a new border or pattern (usually lifted from somewhere else). 4) Finally he adds the word “OBEY” and some graphic representation of Andre the Giant.”

Anonymous

In honor of Mr. Fairey I am contributing this comment from an essay about his work without giving credit to the author. “For those that don’t know, here’s the 101 on how Fairey (and many others) create their art: 1) He looks through old books of political posters, photos, etc. and finds something he likes aesthetically, usually images that appear iconic of certain political motifs and therefore seem “authentic,” i.e. fists in the air, rifles, representations of ideology like red stars, people of color, etc. (I suspect that for years he was using the book Prop Art by Gary Yanker as his primary source, as every other page contains an image he has taken, but he’s clearly moved on to other sources.) 2) He scans the image and runs it through a set of Photoshop or Illustrator filters that usually slightly soften the edges, change the colors, flatten the image if it has any depth. 3) He might remove sections of the background and introduce a new border or pattern (usually lifted from somewhere else). 4) Finally he adds the word “OBEY” and some graphic representation of Andre the Giant.”

Anonymous

Why doesn't everybody stop hatin'! Everyone copies everyone. Whether it's called "inspiration" or an altered reproduction. The fact of the matter is no one cared about Mannie Garcia's photo until Shepard Fairey turned it into something interesting, and for those of you who think making great art is just a matter of using photoshop filters try it sometime. It takes a special eye to know if something is going to be a great piece of art or not no matter how easy or difficult it is to make. "Good artists copy great artists steal." Picasso

Anonymous

Why doesn't everybody stop hatin'! Everyone copies everyone. Whether it's called "inspiration" or an altered reproduction. The fact of the matter is no one cared about Mannie Garcia's photo until Shepard Fairey turned it into something interesting, and for those of you who think making great art is just a matter of using photoshop filters try it sometime. It takes a special eye to know if something is going to be a great piece of art or not no matter how easy or difficult it is to make. "Good artists copy great artists steal." Picasso

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