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Fairey Wins Design Museum Prize

Advertising, Graphic Design, Music Video / Film

Posted by Patrick Burgoyne, 19 March 2009, 10:19    Permalink    Comments (18)

Though dogged by continuing copyright controversy, Shepard Fairey's Obama poster was named as the Brit Insurance Design of the Year last night.

The design was chosen from the seven category winners by a panel of judges including Alan Yentob, Paola Antonelli, Karen Blincoe, Peter Cook, Sarah Mower and Yves Béhar. The panel commented, “If ever there were to be a ‘The Poster of the Year’, the Obama Poster would be it. The US election was a watershed in contemporary history and this poster demonstrates the power of communicating ideas and aspirations from grass-root level. Just as the presidential candidate's campaign speeches recaptured the lost art of oratory, so this poster breathed new life into a form that had lost its purpose. Fairey's poster came not from a marketing campaign, but as a self-initiated fund raising campaign. The poster did its job by becoming a collector's item. More than that it’s encapsulated the mood of its time.”

Deyan Sudjic, director of the Design Museum said: “The Obama poster is a reminder of how extensively the design world impacts our everyday life. The poster has become an international emblem of recent history."

However, the poster is currently the subject of a legal dispute between Fairey and Associated Press. AP approached Fairey after it was alerted to the fact that Fairey's poster used an image by photographer Mannie Garcia as source material. On February 9, Fairey launched a pre-emptive lawsuit claiming 'fair use'. The AP has now issued a counterclaim accusing Fairey of copyright infringement.


It's nice to see that you're crediting the orginal creator of the photograph. What would be nice if for Fairey to do this but I doubt, (given his attempted legal action) that this will happen anytime soon.

Personally I hope that Mannie Garcia eventually gets a share of the royalties that Fairey has made from the image.

In the same way that song writers/composers recieve a share of royalities from people using their material in different ways, so should artists when other artists use their work.
Michael Preston
2009-03-19 11:11:28

The legal issue is a tough one, a lot of design will begin with source material, especially when it is an image of a person. You can only replicate them graphically or artistically through the use of photos at some point. Could images such as the famous graphic image of Che Guevara be affected by such claims? If successful will we see less iconic graphic images of people? I don't know but please keep us posted, it will be interesting to hear the result!
2009-03-19 12:59:53
2009-03-19 13:45:43

The issue is not whether this is original art or an adaptation of what is a glorified photoshop filter on an AP photo...

It's that Fairey stole the photo and made money by deriving work from it, and the original creator of the photo is not being compensated, both fame and financially.

It sucks that Fairey feels the need to 'lift' a majority of his work from places, because he actually has talent. Unfortunately he doesn't care. Hopefully the world will quit caring about his 'work' soon.
2009-03-19 20:54:36

I was going to check out the exhibit this weekend (costs about £8 to get in there if I remember rightly) but I will be giving it a miss if they are going to award rip off trash with less artistic justification than your average high school student could manage.

It's a fucking insult to our profession that this talentless hack gets recognition when he should be festering in the depths of where he belongs
2009-03-20 07:23:39

I should point out that Fairey has consistently stated that he did not make any money out of the Obama poster. All of the proceeds from the original poster went to charity or to fund the production of other posters. A further set of posters were produced which were sold to raise money for the Obama campaign.

Here's what Fairey said in a statement last week: "I am disappointed the Associated Press is persisting in its misguided accusations of copyright infringement. I believe that my use of the Mannie Garcia photo as a reference, which I acknowledged off the bat as an AP photograph, falls under “fair use” provisions laid out in the law.

I am even more disappointed the AP is now trying to distort the facts surrounding my work. They suggest my purpose in creating the poster was to merchandise it and make money. It wasn't. My entire purpose in creating the poster was to support Obama and help get him elected. Money was never the point. The proceeds that were generated from the poster were used to create more posters and donated to charity."

CR Patrick Burgoyne
2009-03-20 08:12:51

Artistic judgments aside, as a documentary piece of 'contemporary history', it's hard to think of a more iconic piece of work for the last 12 months. What people seem to be appealing for is a kind of 'disqualification' from the competition due to questionable professional ethics, but Fairey didn't enter his own work into the competition, did he?

It was chosen based on the impact the piece of work had and should be judged in terms of the apparent historical/cultural context of the award, not the ethics (or lack of) which led to its production. I'm not saying that poor ethics are forgivable as long as it results in popular work, but by the same token this award seems essentially to be for popular work, not ethical practice.
2009-03-20 10:17:23

In spite of all the 'justifications' and citing of 'Fair Use'(which is the same thing as 'stealing the photograph'), the base reality is that, whatever the purpose of Fairey's use of the photograph (and note that he was not just using an 'idea' but the actual photograph) he used the photograph and manipulated it and presented it as his own work as a poster. So copying, plagiarism, theft, call it what you like, but that is what it is. Although the photographer is mentioned, in relation to AP, he doesn't get a credit or get paid. Neither he nor AP gave permission for the use of the photograph. Perhaps photographers should register themselves as 'Charities', then we could be instrumental in enriching poor average designers...
Tim Motion
2009-03-20 12:52:01

I think the fact that lots of people are now finally seeing this for what it always was, is testament to the fact that Fairey got it wrong.

Sadly I doubt that Mannie Garcia will get an award to put in a cabinet, but I hope AP win, that in itself might be some kind of justice.

Either way, I think rickyaustin, Obeyshit and Tim Motion sum up how I feel about the whole debacle fairly succinctly.
Michael Preston
2009-03-20 16:25:51

Everyone needs to put this into context we have all been there - who hasn't used a found image to create an original piece of design/art?

Fairey seems to be dealing with the kind of legal and ownership issues that come with making such a recognisable image these days, he has even said that the proceeds generated were for charity or the campaign.

I have commented on this in the past and whilst I don't rave about Fairey's image I understand it's merit when looking at the bigger picture that images like this involve. The image of Che (done by an Irish guy sorry I can't remember his name but it is in a previous post) the Munroe done by Warhol and the one of the bloke with the beard and halo......If as creative people we were unable to find a an image we liked and then take our idea and add it to that image these iconic images of iconic people would not exist, it is just a part of the process of creativity.

The Obama image takes on a life of it's own as a stylised image of a moment that captures peoples imagination and makes it more recognisable, people duplicate it, manipulate it and bootleg it we get to the point were we hate it, who's fault is that not Fairey's, in the same way in which the photographer loses control of the image to Fairey, Fairey loses control to the public!

Some of the people who have commented on this post sound like they would secretly give there right arm to have created such an iconic image, I think it is a compliment that people take your image and remix it!

Relax, Take a deep breath or at least bake up your argument or listen to others opinions!
2009-03-20 19:56:06

Well, maybe he wasn't famous enough before this to get his own photo shoot with Barack Obama. He's one of the biggest names in 'graphic design' now, so he should have no problem obtaining his own reference photos in the future. I expect this to never happen again because Shepard Fairey is one of the most ethical, genuine and hard-working artists I've ever known. [/sarcasm]
2009-03-20 20:27:38

Even if Fairey donated the money made from this, it doesn't hide the fact that Mr. Garcia was never paid for his work. If I come into your house and steal your couch, sell it, and then donate the money to charity, does that make you whole? NO.

The AP and Garcia deserve royalties for this.

With design ethics such a hot topic recently, from this work, to Fairey's practices in general, to design contests, to doing work for bad clients, etc... I'm surprised that they handed him this award.

The work it self is 'good' but not worthy of worship. It's a glorified photoshop filter on an unpaid reference work. The timing was correct, and it is iconic in nature, but if this is the best work of the year, we as an industry need to step it up.

Sorry if this offends some Obey-Backers, but Fairey's practices are not worthy of respect in my humble opinion.
2009-03-20 22:21:12

Lighten up it happens, he hasn't stole anything... he has referenced a photo, how hot under the collar would you be if this image didn't explode like it did?!

As I say Im not even a fan but sometimes you have to give credit were credit is due!

An iconic time with a iconic image, he had treated images in the past with his style so it wasn't out of the blue, he had all ready been getting decent press so people were aware of him, that is the way it is timing, luck and hard work!
2009-03-22 09:39:47

To rickyaustin:

"Glorfied Photoshop filter?" What a cheap, baseless and, dare I say, jealous comment.

Shepard Fairey's Obama posters achieve a level of aesthetic that merits it to be one of the greatest posters ever made. And do not even try to peg me or others who appreciate the design of the artwork as being an "Obama-backer." It's a great, timeless, iconic poster, full stop, end of discussion.

PS, Thanks to Patrick for posting the comment (six comments in) that clears the air on Mr. Fairey's fair intentions.
Reality Check
2009-03-22 12:45:01

Artists and designers often use other people’s images in their own work. It’s what they do. Andy Warhol used images from newspapers and magazines to create his print screens. Fairey should acknowledge Garcia’s photography skills, yes, but the credit for this poster goes to him, and him alone.
Art But No Because
2009-03-22 15:52:02

Does Obama save the world? Maybe. What has this to do with graphic design? Nothing.
Margus Tamm
2009-03-22 23:41:18

i'm pretty much one of those who defend fairey..

Fairey put in work to achieve to achieve the look of the poster. Sure it looks easy but as designers we all know how hard it can be to make it look good.

Did the photographer put in work? Sure he did as well. But did his photos become collector items and achieve iconic image?

How much then can be the work be attributed to the photographer? Could Fairey have done the work w/o the exact photo? I'm guessing he could have
2009-03-26 11:00:08

Funny how Fairey (like his hero Obama) hate capitalism and the profit motive. Look at him now fighting for his share.

'Fair use', according to whom?

Like all collectivists, "fair" for him, at the expense of others.
2011-06-07 15:55:00

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