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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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Anonymous

Nobody is arguing that what Shepard did isn't cool or that what he does doesn't require talent. But you can't say someething like "nobody cared about mannie garcia's photo before shepard turned it into somehting interesting" because without the photo, shepard's interesting art would have never existed. If your're in the business of appropriation, why is it so difficult to divulge and thank your sources?

Anonymous

Nobody is arguing that what Shepard did isn't cool or that what he does doesn't require talent. But you can't say someething like "nobody cared about mannie garcia's photo before shepard turned it into somehting interesting" because without the photo, shepard's interesting art would have never existed. If your're in the business of appropriation, why is it so difficult to divulge and thank your sources?

skip-rat media

the pastiche is dead. long live the pastiche. What's great about America is the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coca Cola, Angelina Jolie drinks Coca Cola, and you think, 'I can drink Coca Cola, too'. Hope is coke and no amount of money can get you a better coke than the one the homeless man on the corner is drinking. All the cokes are the same and all the cokes are good. Angelina knows it, Obama knows it, the homeless guy knows it, and you know it.

skip-rat media

the pastiche is dead. long live the pastiche. What's great about America is the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coca Cola, Angelina Jolie drinks Coca Cola, and you think, 'I can drink Coca Cola, too'. Hope is coke and no amount of money can get you a better coke than the one the homeless man on the corner is drinking. All the cokes are the same and all the cokes are good. Angelina knows it, Obama knows it, the homeless guy knows it, and you know it.

JMA

I don't really give a shit about Shepard Fairey or his work. But what I find interesting is that whenever someone criticizes him, his defenders - rather than engaging in a discussion of the merits of his art - rush to attack his critic. I'm not just talking about here - it happens whenever Fairey is challenged. If his art is so great and profound, I'd love to hear one of his fans offer some articulate reasons for thinking so...

JMA

I don't really give a shit about Shepard Fairey or his work. But what I find interesting is that whenever someone criticizes him, his defenders - rather than engaging in a discussion of the merits of his art - rush to attack his critic. I'm not just talking about here - it happens whenever Fairey is challenged. If his art is so great and profound, I'd love to hear one of his fans offer some articulate reasons for thinking so...

Anonymous

“Good artists copy great artists steal.” Picasso Geeez, it seems that every time someone wants to defend plagiarism they give the above quote. Picasso was talking about themes and concepts; he was talking about building art on the foundation that has been laid by previous artists. He wasn't talking about outright taking someone's work and changing the color and calling it your own. that's fucking stealing. That's what plagiarism is: stealing! And then there is the fraud factor in Fairey's self-promotion. He is a fucking capitalist marketing himself as a radical. Only in America where the public gets their ideas from the TV and tunes out their environment with ipods and cell phones every possible minute do so many people lack the basic cognition to recognize him for what he is. A fucking businessman selling fucking products.

Anonymous

“Good artists copy great artists steal.” Picasso Geeez, it seems that every time someone wants to defend plagiarism they give the above quote. Picasso was talking about themes and concepts; he was talking about building art on the foundation that has been laid by previous artists. He wasn't talking about outright taking someone's work and changing the color and calling it your own. that's fucking stealing. That's what plagiarism is: stealing! And then there is the fraud factor in Fairey's self-promotion. He is a fucking capitalist marketing himself as a radical. Only in America where the public gets their ideas from the TV and tunes out their environment with ipods and cell phones every possible minute do so many people lack the basic cognition to recognize him for what he is. A fucking businessman selling fucking products.

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