Mystery Solved: Where'd Shepard Fairey Get His Obama Headshot?

| Wed Jan. 21, 2009 6:15 PM EST

It may be the most memorable piece of campaign-trail propaganda in recent memory, but Shepard Fairey's Obama "Hope" poster also has been something of a graphic-design mystery since it was unveiled a year ago. Amazingly, until now, no one's known where the original image of Barack Obama that Fairey used came from. Fairey's been slammed for lifting images from other artists and photographers without adequate attribution or compensation, so it's not surprising that he didn't keep track of his source image. (For more on Fairey's response to criticism that he's a rip-off artist with mad Adobe Illustrator skills, see Mother Jones' recent interview with him.) Last week, a gallery owner claimed victory, saying he'd tracked down the original to a Reuters photographer. But now Philadelphia Inquirer photographer Tom Gralish has definitively solved the mystery of the missing headshot. He's located the true original, a photo shot by an AP freelancer at an April 2006 National Press Club meeting where then-senator Obama and George Clooney talked about Darfur.

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As Gralish notes:
So, it looks like the image that poster artist Shepard Fairey said looked presidential, telling the Washington Post: "He is gazing off into the future, saying, 'I can guide you,'" actually showed our new president listening to George Clooney.

Clooney was sitting on Obama's right, so (as Gralish adds) the senator was more likely looking at another speaker, like Senator Sam Brownback. We'll never know what was going through Obama's head as the immortal photo was taken, but I am relieved to know that he was probably thinking about bigger things than the plot inconsistencies in Ocean's 12.

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