Iconic Obama poster based on Reuters photo — or was it?

January 15, 2009

Shepard Fairey‘s posters of Barack Obama became the iconic image of a historic campaign. After a bit of digging by a photographer and a blogger, it turns out that Fairey’s source material was a photo by Reuters’ veteran photographer Jim Young.

UPDATE, Jan 21: Or perhaps not. A flurry of online interest has resulted in the discovery of another photo from the Associated Press that may be a better match. Read about it at the blog run by Tom Gralish of the Philadelphia Inquirer, who has covered this story extensively.

Our original blog post continues below.

Blogger Michael Cramer created the composite photo above after sifting through countless images to find a match. The poster has Obama facing the opposite direction; Cramer flipped it to correspond with the original source photo.

Young, who took many thousands of photos of Obama on the campaign trail, was pleasantly surprised when told of his contribution to the iconic image. The original picture was taken in 2007 during a Senate confirmation hearing.

“I saw that poster all over the place, all year. For a lot of people it symbolized the campaign. It meant so much to so many people,” Young told Philadelphia Inquirer photographer and blogger Tom Gralish, who has led the search for the photo.

“I’m honored, but I’m glad it didn’t come out until after the campaign,” Jim added. “I think even if I had known it was mine, I would have kept quiet. It would be just my little secret.”

Ironically, Young unknowingly took several pictures of the poster on the campaign trail, including one through a window when it was flipped to match the orientation of his original photo.

Fairey, an artist who first came to fame for an altered picture of wrestler Andre the Giant, has said in interviews that he found the Obama source photo using Google Image Search and then “did his thing to it.” His “Hope” poster is now in the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery.

“You’d think a whole bunch of photographers would step forward,” said Gralish in his blog post. He compared it to the Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famous photograph of a V-J Day kiss in Times Square, which has spurred dozens of people to come forward over the years, claiming to be the kissers in the picture.

More on the Fairey/Young image:

Washington Post graphic about how Fairey created the poster

Time magazine video on Fairey and the Obama poster

Make your own “Obamicon” poster


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I think the photo/image of Obama symbolises hope for the US, I’m a Wedding Photographer from Essex and appreciate the importance of capturing moments. This poster is very similar to the pose Martin Luther King did for his campaigns I sure it has been compared to him before it’s a classic piece.

Isn’t this a copyrightt violation?

Posted by Ayla Z | Report as abusive

Borderline fair use? Derivative enough? It’ll be interesting to see what happens. It is the iconic image for Obama at the mo’.

[...] Originally Posted by George W Bush I want to know who took the picture he used. Reuters photographer Jim Young http://blogs.reuters.com/photo/2009/…reu ters-photo/ [...]

How does Jim feel about the image being reversed. You did mention the poster was based on the image.Jim WCalgary Sun

Posted by Jim Wells | Report as abusive

win-win? or unfair use?

As copying images from the internet is very easy today, it’s difficult to deal with the copyright issues and rather impossible to prevent one from copying or downloading the images once they are out on the net. I think Fairey didn’t even think that the image he doctored could be an icon like this. And I agree with the confession Fairey made, honestly, from where the image he copied and credited Young, even though Young hadn’t even known that it was his picture. The most important thing for me personally is now we have an iconic photo of Obama that has been popular and officially documented into the National Portrait Gallery. If Fairey got any money for it, he has to share it with Young…otherwise just be happy to donate the picture to the gallery.

[...] Reuters Photo Blog – Iconic Obama poster based on Reuters photo [...]

I think it’s a feather in Young’s cap to have taken the original photo. Is Fairey’s poster our generation’s equivalent of the famous photo after WWII of the young soldier and a young woman kissing in the streets?

I like the poster very much, but read this linked article to learn how Fairey is making a career out of directly plagarizing other’s work and not crediting them. This is absolutely copyright infringement if the original works are still under copyright. He can’t claim ingnorance anymore, saying he just took the Obama image off of a Google search.http://www.art-for-a-change.com/O bey/index.htm

Posted by John G. | Report as abusive

[...] (o que não será o mesmo que dizer ‘artista de rua’!) que teve por base uma foto da Reuters e que começou por dizer ‘Progress’ para, mais tarde, a pedido dos elementos da equipa [...]

[...] photographer Jim Young writes about experimenting with a modified Holga in a town soon to be considerably less [...]

It looks like the Jim Young photo may not actually have been the one the poster was based on. See:http://www.flickr.com/photos/2510550 5@N07/3212113517/for an alternative that looks like a better match.

Maybe the media will look more closely at Shepard Fairey and the Obama art “phenomenon” now. Bloggers are picking up on this before you guys do. A full investigation should be done to see how exactly “donations” were spent, who if anyone made a profit off of it, if the campaign funded it. It does not matter if the photographer is ok with it or if the work is free for everyone to use. The point is that Shepard Fairey took it without knowing, without caring, just as he has done with Rene Mederos and others.http://www.myartspace.com/blog/20 09/01/obama-art-phenomenon-selling-hope. htmlhttp://www.myartspace.com/blog/2008/ 11/intentions-of-shepard-fairey-should-b e.htmlhttp://www.myartspace.com/blog/200 8/09/obamas-obedient-artist-is-shepard.h tml

Posted by R | Report as abusive

[...] Muy curiosa también es la historia detrás del icónico poster de Obama creado por Shepard Fairey tomando como base una fotografía [...]

It appears that Fairey has done it again (and again and again). Take somebody else’s photo, slap some Photoshop filters on it, and call it his own art. Whether it’s theft, plagiarism, copyright infringement, fraud or all of those things, it’s not the first time Fairey has done this. The only thing about this that irritates me more, I guess, is all the people who say this sort of thing is no big deal, especially if the photographer, Jim Young, isn’t making a stink about it.

Posted by Sick of Frauds | Report as abusive

[...] week, a blogger for Reuters claimed to have found the source material for Shepard Fairey’s iconic Obama poster. When [...]

[...] the noteworthy and standout imagery from a random photo. You know what’s funny? Two weeks ago Reuters thought it was inspired by one of their photos – and the photographer Jim Young said he was “honored” that Fairey chose his photo to [...]

[...] This was in contrast to many earlier reports that it was based on a Reuters photo. [...]

Presenting a photography image in a different media creates an iconic image. It’s amazing how the art media has slowly joined the digital imaging edge.

[...] a author meets remixes. First is that the remix replace and out shines the original work (pherhaps the obama poster could work as an exsample?) This is the worst and most feared [...]

[...] campaign stops.  However, Fairey did not reveal that the image for the poster was from a photo out of Reuters by photographer Jim Young. The original photo remained unknown until recently when the source of [...]

Ok so this no different from all the iconic portrait from Andy Warhol… although I am surprised no law suit was filed!

Posted by weddingreporter | Report as abusive

[...] a week earlier Reuters claimed that it was one of their pictures that was used as the basis for the illustration, a photograph [...]

[...] photo was taken by acclaimed Reuters photographer Jim Young — who was originally believed to have taken the photograph of Barack Obama upon which artist Shepard Fairey based his iconic Obama Hope [...]