Silk Screen Politics

Friday, February 27, 2009

Shepard Fairey, the man behind the Obey Giant campaign and the Obama "Hope" poster, discusses his work, a new museum retrospective and book, and the role of street art in political activism.


Shepard Fairey

Comments [31]

JDiamond from USA

Yet another Shepard Fairey story...
I haven't listened to this particular program, but I felt the need to comment anyway.This is at least the THIRD program on WNYC, that I have take note of, on the topic of Shepard Fairey and his posters in the past two months. The post-election interest piece, then the subsequent controversy over the use of the original photo, and now this. WHY??? There is so much art out there and WNYC can't seem to get over this already-been-tread pop piece that we're all tired of seeing. I don't mean to be a hater, in fact I would love to know who runs Fairey's PR, because his press is amazing. I just want to hear about other artists and WNYC IS DROPPING THE BALL on keeping their conversations fresh and interesting. Come on!!! Spread the love around a little more.

Feb. 27 2009 05:40 PM

Sorry, that's supposed to read "the photographer is NOT supportive of Fairey."

Feb. 27 2009 02:29 PM

there's a lengthy interview with the photographer on yesterday's Fresh Air.
The photographer is supportive of Fairey. He wants his money, this is his sustenance, and with newspapers drying up, he's probably scared. In fact, he is simultaneously fighting AP, which says it "owns" the image - the photog. says he was freelancing at the time, so they do not own it.
I like what Fairey does, and I'm happy for him, but he doesn't seem to show a lot of good will toward the photographer, or even some of the people he uses in his images, like A. the Giant.

Feb. 27 2009 01:25 PM
mc from Brooklyn

Wonder how he feels about Bill Mahar appropriating the same style to promote his cable show.

Feb. 27 2009 01:06 PM
Laura from Staten Island

Ironically, a few month ago, I contacted Fairey's office to license this exact Obama image for a book cover. They wouldn't sell us the image because they had already licensed it exclusively to another publisher. Maybe we should have just stolen it... :)

This guy is trying to have his cake and eat it too.

Feb. 27 2009 11:21 AM
Laura from Staten Island

Historical images are different. Anything before 1923 is considered public domain and can be reused anyway you want. Although, if you steal it from a professional agency (AP, Corbis, Getty, etc...) and they can prove that you used their version, they might try to go after you. If it's earlier that 1923 they have less of a case.

(Again, I am a photo editor, and pay close attention to these laws in my work.)

Feb. 27 2009 11:13 AM
Joe Corrao from Brooklyn

reuse of historical photo images is different from photos taken last week and still in

Feb. 27 2009 11:09 AM
Laura from Staten Island

Just to clarify, if he used the photo in an art show in a gallery, I don't think the AP would have gone after him. His claim that he is an artist is dubious. He is making a profit from a copyrighted image. He used it in a commercial way, to make a profit, and reproduced it in publications, without getting permission. He is trying to have it both ways. He is claiming that as an artist he should be able to use it, but the truth is he used it in a way that is beyond art.

Also, artist's should totally support the AP in this case, because their own art is protected by the same copyright laws.

Feb. 27 2009 11:05 AM
Laura from Staten Island

The suggestion that the AP is trying to capitalize after the fact is wrong. AP is a professional source of copyrighted images. They offer the images for sale. If an artist steals the image, without paying for it, then the AP has every right to request payment for the use of their image. Usually agencies like AP are happy to work out a deal that everyone can live with. The artist stole a copyrighted image, made a profit, and he should pay for the rights to use that image.

Feb. 27 2009 11:00 AM
artista from greenpoint!

Artists depend on the reuse of images--they are our "second nature." Copyright rules exist now to protect corporations, not individuals.
But Fairey has provoked a lot of outrage about his practices among artists who might otherwise support such practices. Problem is the relative shallowness of his aims & politics: T-shirt ready!!!
I don't mind his popularity, think it is cool, but we all should tremble at something that goes from street art to a grass roots campaign poster and then in an instant the national portrait gallery. What kind of work remains truly grass roots in the "rock star" age... Banksy, anyone?

Feb. 27 2009 10:55 AM
hjs from 11211

if i want this to be art, it's art

Feb. 27 2009 10:54 AM
shc from Manhattan

I was at last night's NYPL Live talk, and Steve Johnson brought up the point of connecting vs. protecting. In the lawsuit brought up by the AP, I perceive a case of protecting only after the connection has been made, and the original photograph "improved" upon, post-remix, post-success. I can only see the sought-after damages as trying to capitalize on something someone else created (Fairey's poster).

But playing devil's advocate, is this too harsh a view? Would the poster have been created without the original photograph? (Lessig suggested probably with that great slide of the seven other Obama photos.) Is retroactive credit valid in cases like these? Think Warhol and Monroe...

Feb. 27 2009 10:51 AM
DRG from Broklyn

Who is to say what an artist is? Not that caller just now.
A sister exhibit in Chicago now exists.
Dispatch: Cloth Print and the Political.

Feb. 27 2009 10:49 AM
Mike from Croton on Hudson

Shepard Fairey seems like a dweeb and a dillatante

Feb. 27 2009 10:49 AM
Laura from Staten Island

By trying to weaken copyright law, he is shooting himself in the foot. He is weakening the rights to his own creations.

Feb. 27 2009 10:48 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Seems to me a more apt adaptation of the Che poster would be to put Fidel Castro's face in. Or is that too literal?

No charge if you do this (& haven't already), Mr. Fairey--just credit me!

Feb. 27 2009 10:48 AM
Molly from Long Island City

Favorite Shepard Fairey piece: Buddy Cianci Mole rat, 1993. It was to coolest thing I'd ever seen.

Feb. 27 2009 10:43 AM
Laura from Staten Island

Even "Artist Reference" is a copyright violation. It's easy to license images from the AP - I do it all of the time, and they are not expensive. He's being irresponsible. It is still a copyright violation. I think the piece of art is lovely, but he still needs to pay for the copyright.

Feb. 27 2009 10:42 AM
The Truth from Atlanta/New York

Good job Fairey

Feb. 27 2009 10:39 AM
Joe Corrao from Brooklyn

how are the poster sales?

Feb. 27 2009 10:38 AM
Joe Corrao from Brooklyn

oh I get it now...

Feb. 27 2009 10:36 AM
Laura from Staten Island

Fairy - please pay AP, and stop stealing copyrighted images. I am a photo editor, and understand the law. He's broken it.

Feb. 27 2009 10:36 AM
Matthew from NYC

How does Fairey feel about that web application that makes any portrait look like his Obama work?

Feb. 27 2009 10:35 AM
Eppie S. from Astoria qns nyc

Listeners should take a look at the 1931 Josephine Baker poster by Chassaing. It was a highlight of the just-closed Paris-New York exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York. Standing in front of the poster, I immediately wondered whether Mr. Fairey had seen it. The museum is selling a notecard of a version of the poster.

Feb. 27 2009 10:35 AM
Park Slope Guy from Park Slope, Brooklyn

Fairey is a plagiarist and completely over-hyped. This guy is no Warhol.

Feb. 27 2009 10:35 AM

It is inspiring to see an artist who treats his craft as a sustaining business, not a semi-secret hobby.

Between the Obama-izer app (which converted Brian's face in this segment) and the thousands of reproductions of your poster online, are you now able to focus on your craft and causes full time without compromising for covering day to day expenses? Also, can you offer advise to other artists who aim to treat their work as a job rather than a hobby?

Feb. 27 2009 10:32 AM
Anne from Manhattan

@ Scott from Cambridge

What about Roy Lichtenstein? Did he simply turn pop culture into so-called art?

Shepherd Fairey's work is art. His "Obey" image spread from a grassroots, underground force. How is that not profoundly reflective of contemporary themes like "the wisdom of the crowds"?

Feb. 27 2009 10:32 AM
mc from Brooklyn

I think I read in a Times article that the photographer is supportive of this work on his picture even if the AP is not.

Feb. 27 2009 10:29 AM
Anne from Manhattan

Shepherd, thank you for making the world realize that graphic designers are rock stars, too.

Feb. 27 2009 10:24 AM
Scott from Cambridge, MA

I just saw the Shepard Fairey exhibit at the ICA. He's a fine graphic designer, but I wouldn't call him an artist. He merely rips off old wartime posters using the aesthetic of the Russian Constructivists without saying anything subversive or new. Andy Warhol turned art into pop culture, Fairey simply turns pop culture into so-called art.

Feb. 27 2009 10:05 AM

I was pleasantly surprised to see some of Fairey's other work, which is more complex and actually much more beautiful than the ubiquitous Obama graphic. (Although I may never understand the Andre the Giant stuff Fairey made, or even Fairey's stated antipathy toward the late actor.)

I wish Fairey gave the photog more credit/respect, but it is also clear that Fairey is utterly changing these images. I wouldn't have realized that if I had just looked at the Obama poster.

Nice that a guy who is politically committed can find some success. The complex legal issues notwithstanding, that's pretty inspirational.

Feb. 27 2009 02:42 AM

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