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Barack Obama "Hope" poster

The most widely distributed version of Shepard Fairey's Obama poster, featuring the word "hope." Other versions used the words "change" and "progress."

The Barack Obama "Hope" poster is an image of Barack Obama designed by artist Shepard Fairey, which was widely described as iconic and came to represent the 2008 Obama presidential campaign.[1][2] It consists of a stylized stencil portrait of Obama in solid red, beige and (pastel and dark) blue, with the word "progress", "hope", or "change" below (and other words in some versions).

The design was created in one day and printed first as a poster. Fairey sold 350 of the posters on the street immediately after printing them. It was then more widely distributed—both as a digital image and other paraphernalia—during the 2008 election season, initially independently but with the approval of the official Obama campaign. The image became one of the most widely recognized symbols of Obama's campaign message, spawning many variations and imitations, including some commissioned by the Obama campaign. This led The Guardian's Laura Barton to proclaim that the image "acquired the kind of instant recognition of Jim Fitzpatrick's Che Guevara poster, and is surely set to grace T-shirts, coffee mugs and the walls of student bedrooms in the years to come."[3]

In January 2009, after Obama had won the election, Fairey's mixed-media stenciled portrait version of the image was acquired by the Smithsonian Institution for its National Portrait Gallery. Later in January 2009, the photograph on which Fairey based the poster was revealed: an April 2006 shot by former Associated Press freelance photographer Mannie Garcia. In response to claims by the Associated Press for compensation, Fairey sued for a declaratory judgment that his poster was a fair use of the original photograph. The parties settled out of court in January 2011, with details of the settlement remaining confidential.

On February 24, 2012, Fairey pleaded guilty in a New York federal court to destroying and fabricating documents during his legal battle with the Associated Press. Fairey had sued the news service in 2009 after it claimed that the famous poster was based on one of its photos. Fairey claimed that he used a different photograph for the poster. But he admitted that, in fact, he was wrong and tried to hide the error by destroying documents and manufacturing others, which is the source of the one count of criminal contempt to which he pleaded guilty.[4] In September, Fairey was sentenced to two years of probation, 300 hours of community service, and a fine of $25,000.[5]

In 2009 Fairey's Obama portrait was featured in the book Art For Obama: Designing Manifest Hope and the Campaign for Change which Fairey also edited.[6][7]


  • Concept and design 1
  • Distribution during the 2008 campaign 2
  • Parodies and imitations 3
    • Fairey's adaptation for the occupy movement 3.1
  • Acquisition by Smithsonian 4
  • Origin and copyright issues 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Concept and design

Yosi Sergant in late October 2007. Sergant suggested Fairey create some art in support of Obama. Sergant contacted the Obama campaign to seek its permission for Fairey to design an Obama poster, which was granted a few weeks before Super Tuesday. Fairey has said that his decision to create a portrait of Obama stemmed from Fairey's feeling that Obama's "power and sincerity as a speaker would create a positive association with his likeness."[8] Fairey found a photograph of Obama using Google Image Search (eventually revealed to be an April 2006 photo by freelancer Mannie Garcia for The Associated Press)[9][10] and created the original poster design in a single day. The original image had the word "progress" and featured Fairey's signature obey star—a symbol associated with his Andre the Giant Has a Posse street art campaign—embedded in the Obama campaign's sunrise logo.[11] Due to the Obama campaign’s concerns about the troublesome connotations of the original wording, Fairey changed the slogan printed under Obama’s image from "progress" to "hope."[8]

According to design writer Steven Heller, the poster was inspired by Social Realism and, while widely praised as original and unique, can be seen as part of a long tradition of contemporary artists drawing inspiration from political candidates and producing "posters that break the mold not only in terms of color and style but also in message and tone."[12] Fairey himself has said, "My historical inspiration was the well-known JFK portrait where he is posed in a three-quarters view looking slightly upward and out into the distance. The image of Lincoln on the five- dollar bill has a similar feel."[8]

Distribution during the 2008 campaign

Fairey began screen-printing posters soon after completing the design and showing it to Yosi Sergant. Initially, he sold 350 and put 350 more up in public. Beginning with that sale and continuing throughout the campaign, Fairey used proceeds from selling the image to produce more of it; after first printing, he made 4,000 more that were distributed at Obama rallies before Super Tuesday. He also put a printable digital version on his website. As Fairey explained in an October 2008 interview, the image quickly went viral, spreading spontaneously through social media and word of mouth.[11]

Victory banners in Chicago after the election, incorporating design elements from the "Hope" poster

After the initial 700 posters, the Obama campaign conveyed through Sergant that they wanted to promote the theme of hope, and most of the posters sold by Fairey subsequently had the word "hope" and later "change" instead of "progress"; the obey star was also absent from later versions. By October 2008, Fairey and Sergant claimed to have printed 300,000 posters (with less than 2,000 sold and the rest given away or displayed) and 1,000,000 stickers, as well as clothing and other items with the image sold through Fairey's website, in addition to copies printed by others.[11][13] According to Fairey and Sergant, proceeds from sales of the image were used to produce more posters and other merchandise in support of the Obama campaign, rather than direct profit for Fairey.[11]

Parodies and imitations

As the campaign progressed, many parodies and imitations of Fairey's design appeared. For example, one anti-Obama version replaced the word "hope" with "hype", while parody posters featuring opponents Sarah Palin and John McCain had the word "nope".[14] In January 2009 Paste magazine launched a site allowing users to create their own versions of the poster. More than 70,000 images were uploaded to the site in its first two weeks.[15][16][17]

Mad magazine parodied the "hope" poster with an "Alfred E. Neuman for President!" poster. Alfred was on the poster, and the word "hope" was replaced with "hopeless". Anti-Gaddafi protesters in Chicago, in solidarity with the 2011 Libyan civil war, have co-opted the image. Dynamite Comics released a four-part crossover with Obama and Ash Williams of their "Army Of Darkness" comics and the Evil Dead films. One of the issues covers had a picture of Ash Williams (played by Bruce Campbell in the films) in the style of the "Hope" poster with the bottom text reading "Hope?"

Demonstrators in Chicago's Loop in late February 2011

Fairey himself was commissioned to create a number of works in the same style. He produced two other versions, based on different photographs, officially on behalf of the Obama campaign,[18] and another to serve as the cover of the Person of the Year issue of Time.[19] He also created a portrait of comedian Stephen Colbert in the same style, which appeared in an issue of Entertainment Weekly honoring Colbert's television show The Colbert Report.[20]

Firas Alkhateeb, the student who designed the controversial Obama "Joker" image, cited Fairey as being his greatest influence.[21] Alkhateeb described the "Joker" image as a corrective to Fairey's glowing portrayal of Obama.[21][22] Fairey has both criticized and praised the "Joker" poster, stating "The artwork is great in that it gets a point across really quickly", but that "I don't agree with the political content of the poster".[22][23]

Conservative satire site The People's Cube did designs using words like "Chaos" with an image of Rush Limbaugh ("Operation Chaos"), "Shrugged" with an image of Ayn Rand (as in "Atlas Shrugged") and "Marxism" with an image of Groucho Marx.

The September 2009 issue of The Advocate, America's oldest-continuing LGBT publication, featured a cover image that was similar to Fairey's design. The blue and red coloring was replaced with pink and purple, but instead of "hope", the caption was "nope?".[24] Jon Barrett, the magazine's editor-in-chief, said the cover symbolized frustration among some Democratic members of the LGBT community.[24]

The poster has also been parodied in popular culture. In the Futurama episode "Proposition Infinity," a similar poster of President Richard Nixon can be seen, with the slogan "DESPAIR". In the 2010 movie Megamind, a version of the poster can be seen with Megamind's visage and the caption "NO YOU CAN'T", parodying Obama's campaign slogan "Yes we can". Disney's animated series "Phineas and Ferb" has two episodes, "Nerds of a Feather" and "She's the Mayor", both with Obama's poster parodied with Candace's face. American heavy metal band Five Finger Death Punch has released a version with their mascot and the words "WAR", referring to their then-new album War Is The Answer. In Iron Man 2, Tony Stark receives a similar poster of the Iron Man armor and hangs it in his Malibu garage, much to the displeasure of his assistant and love interest Pepper Potts.

Fairey's adaptation for the occupy movement

Fairey's 2011 adaptation for the occupy movement

Sympathizing with the occupy movement, in November 2011 Shepard Fairey introduced an imitation of his original "Hope" poster. In the new poster, Obama's face was replaced with the Guy Fawkes mask, and the single word "hope" was replaced by the message "Mister President, we HOPE you're on our side", with the word "HOPE" in large font and the rest of the sentence in small font. The Obama campaign logo on the right was replaced by a similar looking logo with the inscription "We are the 99%".[25]

Acquisition by Smithsonian

On January 7, 2009, the Smithsonian Institution's National Portrait Gallery announced it had acquired Fairey's hand-finished collage (stencil and acrylic on paper) version of the image (with the word "hope"), which the gallery said would go on display shortly before Obama's inauguration on January 20, 2009. The work was commissioned and later donated by art collectors Heather and Tony Podesta (Tony is the brother of Obama's transition co-chairman John Podesta). It is an unusual acquisition, in that the National Portrait Gallery normally collects official portraits as presidents are leaving office rather than before they take office.[26][27]

Origin and copyright issues

An AP photo by Mannie Garcia (upper left) was shown to be a near-perfect match, in contrast with a Reuters photograph (lower left) earlier purported to be the source.[10][28][29]

The original source photograph Fairey based the poster on was not publicly known until after Obama had won the election. After a mistaken attribution to War in Darfur after a trip to Sudan he had taken with his father.[30][31]

On February 4, 2009, the Associated Press announced that it determined "that the photograph used in the poster is an AP photo and that its use required permission." In a press release, the AP announced they were in discussions with Fairey's attorney to discuss an amicable solution.[32] Fairey was represented by Anthony Falzone, executive director of the Fair Use Project at Stanford University. Falzone was quoted in the press release: "We believe fair use protects Shepard's right to do what he did here."[32] Fairey subsequently filed a federal lawsuit against the Associated Press, seeking a declaratory judgment that his use of the AP photograph was protected by the fair use doctrine and so did not infringe their copyright.[33]

On October 16, 2009, Fairey admitted that he had based the poster on the AP photograph and had fabricated and destroyed evidence to hide the fact.[34] Fairey's admission came after one of his employees informed Fairey that he had discovered damning documents on an old hard drive. Realizing that these documents would expose his cover-up attempt, Fairey chose to come clean to his attorney.[8]

Photographer Mannie Garcia contended that he retained copyright to the photo according to his AP contract. He said that he was "so proud of the photograph and that Fairey did what he did artistically with it, and the effect it's had," but that he did not "condone people taking things, just because they can, off the Internet."[31] Fairey countered that his conduct did not constitute "improper appropriation" because he had not taken any protected expression from Garcia's original photo. In addition, he claimed his behavior would qualify as a fair use. At trial AP would have to address both arguments.[8]

A judge urged a settlement, stating that AP would win the case.[35] The AP and Shepard Fairey settled out of court in January 2011. In a press release, the AP announced that the AP and Fairey "agreed to work together going forward with the Hope image and share the rights to make the posters and merchandise bearing the Hope image and to collaborate on a series of images that Fairey will create based on AP photographs. The parties have agreed to additional financial terms that will remain confidential."[36]

In a separate criminal action, federal prosecutors suggested that Fairey should face prison time for the destruction of evidence in the case, with the government sentencing request stating that "A sentence without any term of imprisonment sends a terrible message to those who might commit the same sort of criminal conduct. Encouraging parties to game the civil litigation system…creates terrible incentives and subverts the truth-finding function of civil litigation."[37] However, his sentence was ultimately limited to 300 hours of community service and a $25,000 fine.[38]


  1. ^ Pasick, Adam (January 15, 2009). "Iconic Obama poster based on Reuters photo". Reuters. Archived from the original on January 20, 2009. Retrieved January 20, 2009. 
  2. ^ "Copyright battle over Obama image", BBC News, February 5, 2009. Retrieved February 22, 2009.
  3. ^ Hope - the Image that is Already an American Classic by Laura Barton, The Guardian, November 10, 2008
  4. ^ Creator of popular Obama ‘HOPE’ poster pleads to criminal contempt charge in NYC
  5. ^ David Ng (September 8, 2012). "Shepard Fairey sentenced to probation, fine in Obama 'Hope' case".  
  6. ^ LA Weekly
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b c d e Fisher III, William W.; Frank Cost, Shepard Fairey, Meir Feder, Edwin Fountain, Geoffrey Stewart & Marita Sturken (Spring 2012). "Reflections on the Hope Poster Case". Harvard Journal of Law and Technology 25 (2). Retrieved January 21, 2013. 
  9. ^ Mannie Garcia website
  10. ^ a b Tom Gralish, "Found - AGAIN - the Poster Source Photo", Scene on the Road, January 21, 2009. Retrieved January 22, 2009.
  11. ^ a b c d Ben Arnon, "How the Obama "Hope" Poster Reached a Tipping Point and Became a Cultural Phenomenon: An Interview With the Artist Shepard Fairey", Huffington Post, October 13, 2009. Retrieved January 17, 2009.
  12. ^ Steven Heller, "Beyond Red, White and Blue", Campaign Stops Blog, The New York Times, February 15, 2008. Retrieved February 21, 2009.
  13. ^ William Booth, "Street Artist Fairey Gives Obama a Line of Cred, The Washington Post, May 18, 2008. Retrieved January 17, 2009.
  14. ^ Kate Linthicum, "Artist’s Obama poster spawns wave of parodies", Los Angeles Times, October 9, 2008. Retrieved February 21, 2009.
  15. ^ The Star (Toronto) . 
  16. ^ Paste’s Obama Site Surpasses Magazine’s Online Traffic in Less Than a Week
  17. ^ ABC News
  18. ^ Nicole Powers, "Shepard Fairey: Purveyor of Hope", SuicideGirls, December 12, 2008. Retrieved February 22, 2009.
  19. ^ Brian Stelter, "Time cover sure looks a lot like a campaign image", International Herald Tribune, December 22, 2008. Retrieved February 22, 2009.
  20. ^ Stephen Colbert, "Shepard Fairey", The Colbert Report, January 15, 2009. Retrieved February 22, 2009.
  21. ^ a b Good, Oliver (September 1, 2009). "The joke’s on who?".  
  22. ^ a b Borrelli, Christopher (August 19, 2009). "Talking to the Chicago college student who may be behind Obama-as-Joker poster".  
  23. ^ Milian, Mark (August 10, 2009). "Shepard Fairey has 'doubts' about intelligence of Obama Joker artist".  
  24. ^ a b  
  25. ^ Bell, Melissa (November 20, 2011). "Shepard Fairey asks Obama to support Occupy". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 21, 2011. 
  26. ^ "NPG Acquires Shepard Fairey’s Portrait of Barack Obama," National Portrait Gallery, January 7, 2009. Retrieved January 17, 2009.
  27. ^ "Gallery gets iconic Obama image," BBC News, January 8, 2009. Retrieved January 17, 2009.
  28. ^ Tom Gralish, "MYSTERY SOLVED! The Obama Poster Photographer ID'd", Scene on the Road, January 14, 2009. Retrieved January 17, 2009.
  29. ^ stevesimula, fairey poster photo source?, Flickr, January 20, 2009. Retrieved January 20, 2009.
  30. ^ Tom Gralish, "Obama Poster Photo Mystery Archives", Scene on the Road, December 22, 2008 through January 23, 2009. Retrieved February 21, 2009.
  31. ^ a b Randy Kennedy, "Artist Sues The A.P. Over Obama Image", The New York Times, February 9, 2009. Retrieved February 21, 2009.
  32. ^ a b Elliott, Philip (February 4, 2009). "AP alleges copyright infringement of Obama image".  
  33. ^ Itzkoff, Dave (February 9, 2009). "Shepard Fairey Sues Associated Press Over Obama Poster".   The case is Shepard Fairey; Obey Giant Art Inc. v. The Associated Press, No. 09-CV-1123, S.D.N.Y..
  34. ^ Robbins, Liz (October 17, 2009). "Artist Admits Using Other Photo for ‘Hope’ Poster".  
  35. ^ Itzkoff, Dave (May 29, 2010). "Judge Urges Resolution in Use of Obama Photo". The New York Times. 
  36. ^ "AP and Shepard Fairey announce agreement in Obama poster case". Associated Press. January 12, 2011. 
  37. ^ "Feds Seek Prison Time For Obama "Hope" Artist". The Smoking Gun. September 5, 2012. Retrieved December 19, 2013. 
  38. ^ "No Prison Time For Obama "Hope" Artist In Federal Contempt Case, Judge Rules". The Smoking Gun. September 7, 2012. Retrieved December 19, 2013. 

External links

  • Obama - original version from Fairey's website,
  • Fisher III, William W.; Fairey, Shepard; et al. (2012). "Reflections on the Hope Poster Case". Harvard Journal of Law & Technology 25 (2): 243–338. Retrieved December 7, 2012. 
  • Person of the Year Videos: Icon-maker Shepard Fairey - TIME video
  • Shepard Fairey Tells Of Inspiration Behind 'HOPE' - October 28, 2008 interview by Farai Chideya on NPR
  • Behind Obama's Iconic HOPE Poster by Joshuah Bearman, Huffington Post, November 11, 2008
  • Money and the Muse by Ted Hamilton, The Cornell Daily Sun, March 22, 2009
  • Artist admits using key AP photo for 'HOPE' poster by NPR
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