Mystery Solved!

Thursday, January 15, 2009


Jim Young / Reuters

I am completely sympathetic to the reader who posted the comment yesterday "Enough with the Obama stories!", but the Shepard Fairey source mystery is quite a story and has eluded photo watchers for quite a while.

After my post yesterday, Mike Webkist (if that's his real name) came forward with a link to a 2007 story in time.com that credited the photo to Jonathan Daniel of Getty Images. He also showed how the picture was flipped which made the source almost unrecognizable. (See below.)

So I managed to contact Jonathan Daniel who responded that the picture was not his.

Then I contacted TIME where I ended up talking to time.com picture editor Mark Rykoff who was extremely helpful in trying to find the correct attribution. After investigating, he called me back and pointed me to Jim Young of Reuters. (FYI – Time.com have already corrected the credit.)

Reuters are understandably somewhat put out on their own and Young's behalf, but like it or not, Fairey's use of the picture are well within the parameters of "fair use". His transformative use of the image – both in flipping and re-orienting it, adding jacket and tie and the "O" Obama logo, and converting it to his block print style make it consistent with all legal precedents for use. Of course all of this is not to say that some Solomonic out of court settlement would not be appropriate, but at the end of the day I hope it's a win-win situation for everyone.

Perhaps the strangest proof of the transformative nature of Fairey's work is that Young, a D.C. based Reuters photographer was not even aware that the most ubiquitous image of the entire election campaign was based on his picture!

Anyway, mystery solved. It's extraordinary how many people it takes to get to the answer of a question that has eluded me for several months and how a response to this blog helped finally solve the problem. (Score a big one for truth, justice, and the internet.)

Finally, I'm talking to Reuters about editioning Young's print. Sorry to Anon. of "Enough with the Obama stories", but I think we're in for four (or eight) more years!







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