Found: The Photograph That Inspired Obama Nation

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A mystery has been solved.

The image that has come to define Barack Obama’s remarkable campaign–a lithograph created by the artist Shepard Fairey showing the president gazing up into the middle distance–has been traced to its origins, a photograph taken in April of 2006, when Obama appeared at the National Press Club with the actor George Clooney to discuss the genocide in Darfur.

The photographer who took the shot, a former Associated Press freelancer named Mannie Garcia, only found out he was the source of the photograph on Inauguration night, when he got an email from a Philadelphia Inquirer photographer who has been trying to track down the source of the image. Earlier, the image had been mistakenly credited to a different photograph taken by a Reuters.

Garcia, who now works at the White House for Bloomberg, says heĀ  hopes to get in touch with Fairey so he can talk over the image that has exploded into a pop culture icon. “Photographers are always getting ripped off,” said Garcia, who quickly added that he was not angry or seeking money from the artist who appropriated his image. “You see it everywhere. You see it on everything.”

“I’d like to talk to Fairey,” Garcia continued. “As gentlemen we can work this out. . . . I don’t want it to get ugly.”

The discovery adds another wrinkle to the remarkable story of the Fairey image, which has been reproduced in posters, stickers, and t-shirts, and even on the cover of TIME magazine and in a fold-out poster distributed to TIME readers. [CORRECTION: The TIME magazine image was a Fairey creation based on another image, taken by Time contract photographer Brooks Kraft.] Fairey is a guerrilla artist, who first became famous for his graffiti-like installations on city streets of images of the late wrestler and actor, Andre The Giant. He created the official poster for Obama’s inuagural celebration using the same image Garcia made in 2006, at a routine Washington press conference.

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