Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obama Photo Mystery Solved

Transformation or infringement? It seems that the guy who took the original photograph that became the basis for the Obama campaign's image promotions didn't know his photograph was the source, according to James Dazinger.

"I believe that last week I solved the biggest photographic mystery of the 2008 election: I found the photographer who took the photo that was the source for Shepard Fairey’s iconic Obama HOPE prints.

My search began last fall, when I recognized that Fairey’s prints were becoming the definitive visual of the campaign, and I began asking everyone from Amanda Fairey, the artist’s wife, to Holly Hughes, the editor of Photo District News, if they knew who took the original photo. No one could seem to pin it down. Shepard Fairey was on record as saying it came from a Google Image search, but couldn’t (or wouldn’t) track it back to the source...

A call to Reuters left their Washington desk reeling, but they put me in touch with their Media Pictures person in New York, a woman named Nancy Glowinski, who was cool, calm and collected. She did some checking, and confirmed that Jim Young had indeed snapped the photo in question.

... Reuters was initially—and understandably—put out that they hadn’t been credited as the original source of what turned out to be the presidential campaign’s most enduring visual image, but no laws had been broken.

Like it or not, Fairey's use of the picture is well within the parameters of what’s considered "fair use." His transformation of the image—flipping and re-orienting it, adding jacket, tie and the "O" Obama logo, and converting it to his block print style—make it consistent with all legal precedents for public use...

But perhaps the best proof that Fairey transformed the photo into something all his own is that Young, a Washington-based photographer who has taken, in his words, “thousands” of pictures of Obama, was not even aware that the most ubiquitous image of the election was based on his photograph. He’d seen the HOPE poster countless times and never made the connection to his own photograph, which he snapped at a 2007 Senate confirmation hearing."

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