The AP photo, left, and the Shepard Fairey poster. Courtesy NPR.

I personally can’t say that any of the readings have changed my approach to design work persé.  City Tech (and CUNY at large) does a good job of talking to us about the ethics of sourcing the pieces we use to complete our designs, and properly crediting the artists who enable us to complete our work. 99% of the time I try to use Royalty free images sourced on the internet for my personal projects, but there have been occasions where there are no suitable option and I’ve used a simple google image search to help complete my assignment in a pinch, all the while understanding that the work doesn’t go beyond my professor, and potentially my classmates. That said, I would never use images found online for paid jobs or published works. While taking COMD 2400 I even purchased a subscription to shutter stock to ensure that I could find photos that were in line with what I was looking for in regards to the final project of that class. The tough part about being a graphic designer is that sometimes you feel like a raccoon digging in a trashcan looking for something suitable to eat. We borrow typefaces, images, and even visual motifs to help create something new. In a weird way graphic design is an exercise in how far one can push the terms of fair use. This has great potential to land us in hot water, not unlike Shepard Fairey. 

Shepard Fairey landed in hot water after using a photo taken by a photographer from the associated press as the basis of his iconic HOPE poster which depicted president Barrack Obama. The AP called Fairey’s work a “form of computerized paint by the numbers.”. While I can’t say I disagree with that assessment, Fairey clearly transformed the photo enough to take an otherwise commonplace image of the president and elevated it to cultural icon status. Where I disagree with his approach is that he lied about where he drew his initial inspiration from, and then tried to cover up that lie.

I do think that Fairey broke a lot of laws, ethical, and moral codes to produce this work. Reading over the AIGA guide enlightened me in just how far Fairey went (likely unknowingly) to coverup his transgression. Regardless, I think the settlement landed where it should have landed. The AP’s photo was utilitarian, it was capturing a moment in time literally. Fairey elevates the photo ever so slightly with color and type and imbues it with emotion. That said I believe this is a sticky situation that opens the door for artists to use media with a “beg for forgiveness rather than ask for permission mindset”. 

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