An Open Letter to Shepard Fairey*

Thursday, April 9, 2009

*Apologies in advance to all who find this issue boring.

Dear Mr. Fairey,

This week you posted a new and lengthy comment on your website about the ongoing case between you and AP. As I am referenced (although not by name) as the gallery selling Mannie Garcia’s photograph of Barack Obama and as by now my role in identifying Mannie’s photograph as the source image for your HOPE, PROGRESS, YES WE DID, and BE THE CHANGE posters is well known, there are a few points I would like to clarify.

1. I am a big fan and have great respect for your work.

2. The whole “discovery” process came about as a result of my due diligence researching work for my January 2008 exhibition “Can & Did – Graphics, Art and Photography from the Obama Campaign”. This exhibition featured numerous artists, designers, and photographers in addition to you and Mannie Garcia and the show was not in any way about that dispute.

3. As your wife can tell you based on our e-mail correspondence, I was very upfront about my interest in finding the source image and in working with you or your gallery. As you had credited David Turnley, a friend of mine, as the source photographer for your VOTE poster, I couldn’t understand why you wouldn’t credit the photographer for the justly more famous HOPE and PROGRESS posters.

4. When Mannie Garcia’s photograph was correctly identified as the source I went on record both in my blog and in my discussions with AP to say that I did feel your work was transformative and to recommend they not take an adversarial position. My issue was why Mannie wasn’t credited and why you wouldn’t feel some obligation on an ethical level to acknowledge and recompense Mannie, artist to artist.

5. What really bothered me, however, and continues to bother me is that once the correct picture was identified (Mannie’s full frame shot of Obama’s head and shoulders) you continue to insist that the picture you used was the one of Clooney and Obama. Unless it is part of your legal strategy – making your case based on using a detail of a larger picture rather than the entire picture – it makes no sense as it has been indisputably proven that the full frame head shot is the source. I guarantee this 100%.

6. To prove this once for all, rather than relying on other people’s overlays, after reading your latest post yesterday I had my assistant overlay the two Obama shots over your poster. The results are absolutely conclusive as you will see below. You can do this test yourself if you or any of your assistants care to do it using photoshop.

7. So all I’m asking is for you and your dealer to stop disparaging my and Mannie’s motives or the facts we present. Admit you made a mistake and acknowledge the correct source picture as Mannie’s headshot. As someone who has worked in photography for over 30 years as a picture editor, writer, director of Magnum Photos, and gallery owner it has been my practice to stick up for photographers. That is all this was ever about.


James Danziger

Mannie Garcia's full frame headshot

+ Shepard Fairey's HOPE poster

= this composite which lines up 100% identically - head, shoulders, eyes, expression, etc..

Mannie Garcia's shot of Clooney and Garcia

+ Shepard Fairey's HOPE poster

= this composite where the lines don't match up.


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