Thursday, January 22, 2009
Netizens have discovered the photograph that was used to create the iconic Barack Obama “HOPE” poster, which became a national symbol during his 2008 presidential campaign in the United States.
Los Angeles, California street artist Shepard Fairey’s poster design is an almost exact match to an Associated Press photo from October 2006 or earlier. Prior reports beginning on January 14, 2009 claimed that the poster was based on a different photo, a shot by Reuters photographer Jim Young from January 2007. However, on January 20, 2009 Flickr user stevesimula and blog commenters identified the Associated Press photo that appears to be a much closer match.
Fairey had revealed that he found the photographic basis for his four-color screen-printed design using Google Image Search, but could not or would not identify which photo he used. News broke of a supposed source only days ago. According to an earlier attempted analysis by Michael Cramer, it was a photo from TIME magazine which was reversed and stretched slightly. That photo was credited to “Jonathan Daniel” of Getty Images, but this turned out to be a misattribution. Reporter James Danziger of The Daily Beast tracked down the actual photographer for the TIME shot, Jim Young, and in his words “solved the biggest photographic mystery of the 2008 election”. Reuters also celebrated their photo as the basis for such a phenomenon as Fairey’s poster, and a print of the photo was sold to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. But it took only a few days for internet sleuths to show that, while similar, the Jim Young photo was not the one Fairey used.
The most convincing evidence that a different photo is indeed the one comes from Flickr: stevesimula produced a graphic comparing the two purported sources. The side lighting in the alternative photo creates highlight and shadow areas closely matching those Fairey used in his high-contrast stencil-like image, and the overlaid images line up precisely from Obama’s eyes to the shadow on his collar to his tie. Jim Young’s photo would have required manipulation to simply match the profile of Fairey’s design, even without considering details like the highlights and shadows.
The actual photo came from the Associated Press, as Wikimedians discovered using the “reverse image search engine” TinEye.com. That tip led photographer Tom Gralish of The Philadelphia Inquirer to the original photo through a Google image search for both “Obama” and “associated press”. The original contained IPTC metadata identifying the creator as Mannie Garcia, which Gralish quickly confirmed. The shot came from an April 2006 event where George Clooney, not then-Senator Obama, was the main attraction: Clooney was addressing the National Press Club about his trip to Darfur.
Fairey’s appropriation raises questions of intellectual property, as apparently no attempt was made to secure reproduction rights from the Associated Press. Sales of the image (on posters, clothing, and other paraphernalia) were used to fund the production of more posters in support of the Obama campaign, and raised Fairey’s public image considerably. A large hand-finished collage version was recently acquired by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery. The purchase price is not known.