Was George Clooney Cropped Out of the Photo That Became the Famous Barack Obama ‘Hope’ Poster?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about the world of photography and whether they are true or false.

PHOTOGRAPHY URBAN LEGEND: George Clooney was originally in the photo that was used as he basis for the famous Barack Obama “Hope” poster.

During the 2008 campaign, a poster featuring Barack Obama created by Shepard Fairey began to appear. While it had a few different words under it, the most famous one included the word “Hope.”

It became one of the most iconic political posters of all-time and certainly the most iconic one in the 21st Century.

However, the origins of the poster have been the source of some wild intrigue and criminal charges, if you can believe it.

For some time, Fairley claimed that the poster had been based on this photo taken by photographer Manny Garcia in 2006, working for the Associated Press, of Obama and actor George Clooney.

Over the years, President Obama often joked about it, like at a fundraiser he was at with Clooney in 2012, “This is the first time that George Clooney has ever been photo-shopped out of a picture. Never happened before, never happen again.”

However, that’s NOT the photo that Fairey ACTUALLY used.

You see, naturally, once the poster became a big deal and Fairey was making money off of selling the poster on shirts, towels, etc., the Associated Press sued him for its cut of the money (interestingly, Garcia argued that the copyright was his, but whatever, that was a whole other legal debate. The legal questions where the same whether it was Garcia’s copyright of the AP’s) and Fairey defended himself on the grounds of fair use.

But here’s the deal, when you’re transforming a photograph into a piece of art like this, one of the best defenses that you have is that you really transformed the photo into the piece of art. For instance, taking a bunch of photos and making a collage, that would count as creating a new work of art.

Well, here is the photo that Fairey ACTUALLY used…

You see, if you take a photo and crop someone out of if, you have a better argument that you “transformed” the photo into your work than if you, you know, just take the original photo and didn’t change much at all, which is what Fairey actually did.

The problem is that when Fairey realized which photo he had actually used (he says he honestly at first thought that it WAS the Clooney one and it was only after he looked into that he realized it was the other one), he destroyed images and manipulated files to pretend that he didn’t use the photo that he actually did. He didn’t admit this until the trial had actually gone under way, leading to his attorneys pulling out of representing him. He admitted, “In an attempt to conceal my mistake, I submitted false images and deleted other images. I sincerely apologize for my lapse in judgment, and I take full responsibility for my actions, which were mine alone.”

Since there was still money to made through selling the poster and while Fairey was sure to lose, the AP couldn’t do anything without the poster, either, Fairey and the AP settled and they currently sell the poster together. Fairey luckily avoided jail time for the fraud charges, and just had to perform 300 hours of community service and pay a $30,000 fine.

The legend is…


Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

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