Time 2011 Person of the Year Cover by Shepard Fairey/Ted Soqui

Time Magazine’s annual Person of the Year is almost always controversial. The selection of the person or thing is a yearly spectacle of substance over style, where everyone has their favorite political game changer, cultural icon, corporate titan, inanimate object or concept (remember when You were person of the year?)¬† Add art into the mix this time out as Shepard Fairey uses another photograph as the basis for his striking cover image. LA Weekly photographer¬†Ted Soqui is cool with it, find out why here. As for you, is this controversial? Discuss.


Categories: Editorial, New Illustration

Author:Mark Kaufman

Mark Kaufman is a partner at Vivitiv, an issue oriented design firm providing creative services for organizations involved in housing, technology issues, education, the environment, and the arts. His illustrations have appeared in The New York Times, The Progressive, National Lampoon, The Stranger, and The Oxford American. Mr. Kaufman writes and draws the comic strips American Affairs Desk and I Drew This Thing. Mark is Vice President Communications, ICON9 The Illustration Conference and is an editor at Illustration Age. Mark Kaufman's Illustration Site ///// Vivitiv Issue Oriented Design

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11 Comments on “Time 2011 Person of the Year Cover by Shepard Fairey/Ted Soqui”

  1. December 15, 2011 at 8:56 am #

    I think using a photo reference with the original artist’s permission is absolutely fine…. the only beef I have with Mr. Fairey is that he used way too much visual information from the photograph – rather than take liberties offered by his own imagination, or by his chosen medium.

    I may be totally off course here, I haven’t read any discussions with Fairey over this image yet. Perhaps if there has been an interview, someone on here can post a link to it??

  2. December 15, 2011 at 9:03 am #

    I agree with Mathew that the illustration is a bit too close to the photo. Perhaps this was the art directors idea(?). Other than that, I see no reason for controversy since the photographer has signed off on it.
    As far as the Copenhagen incident mentioned in the article…I lived in Copenhagen for about 12 years and am pretty familiar with that case. I side with Fairy on that one for sure. There were a lot of miscommunications and wrong assumptions made by those who were against him painting a mural there.

  3. December 15, 2011 at 9:58 am #

    There is no imaginative originality at all! Well, except for the coloring…

    Does this make him a truly talented illustrator? Or merely a graphic designer with good Adobe Illustrator skills?

    • Mikey
      December 15, 2011 at 1:08 pm #

      um OW! I’m a graphic designer and an illustrator. I also have good Adobe Illustrator skills. Does that mean I lack imaginative originality? I think not. I use imagination and originality in everything I work on. When critiquing others work don’t do it by demeaning another.

      • Lulu Rocka
        December 15, 2011 at 2:29 pm #


        I wasn’t talking about Youuuuuu!

        However, point taken.

  4. December 15, 2011 at 11:26 am #

    I personally used to be a big Shepard Fairey fan, but the more I see his work depending on the work of others, I lose more respect and am less enamored with his Illustration. Here’s a link to an older expose of sorts of his controversial approach to his work that many people have already seen, but it’s a very revealing look at the way he seems to copy not only the photographs and art of others, but even his propaganda poster style – http://www.art-for-a-change.com/Obey/index.htm

    One big problem I have is that so many organizations and well-established Illustrators make such a big deal out of artists who copy the styles and imagery of others, and yet Shepard seems to repeatedly get a pass from the industry. Is this because he’s too big or too famous to criticize?

  5. Lulu Rocka
    December 15, 2011 at 11:41 am #

    Thomas… Un-frikkin-believable! The gaul of that “designer”! I m actually disappointed in Illustration Age for featuring Fairey on their website and giving him undeserved exposure… Sigh!

    • December 19, 2011 at 9:12 am #

      I think one of Mark’s reasons for posting this work, not to speak for him, was to initiate this conversation, which is a very important discussion to have.

  6. December 15, 2011 at 4:21 pm #

    Like most people, illustrator, designer, butcher, baker, candlestick maker I am of two minds about Shepard Fairey. On the one hand, I respect his body of work, his marketing savvy, his stature in the American cultural landscape, and his deftness in handling the pressure of being a lighting rod for criticism from all angles. On the other hand I view his work as late period Andy Warhol or as a latter day Fat Elvis: there’s something there, but it ain’t what it used to be. Fairey’s work is redolent of our time, let’s not forget his Obama Hope poster from 2008, which in my opinion one hundred years hence will go down as one of the iconic images of the 21st Century. Who amongst us can argue with that? Who amongst us will ever achieve that?

    I think that Time Magazine chose the exact right person to create the image for The Protestor as Person of the Year, someone that regularly “takes” the work of someone else for their own gain, the same as Tahrir Square, Wall Street or on the newstand. Fairey is controversial – he is anti-establishment, yet firmly entrenched in the top 1% of the multi-billion dollar art world, a lethal combination of revolutionary imagery and the latest technologies. I would be disappointed if Fairey did NOT ape a photographer’s work for this cover image. The fact that so many entities are involved in the piece, freelance photographer, “alternative” weekly, photo agency, corporate publishing giant, and “street” artist puts us square in the crossroads of who owns what, copyright law, fair use and the remix generation we find ourselves in.

    As far as I can see, the only thing that is a problem is that Time Inc. asked the photographer “to take a lot of [copies of the photo] down” so they could control the image. Corporations are people my friend. And litigious ones at that.

  7. December 21, 2011 at 3:40 pm #

    One last note on this before I close up my mind for the holidays.

    I find it odd that the powers that be at Time Magazine credit only Shepard Fairey as the creator of this work, while knowing full well that it is a derivative work of Ted Soqui, the LA Weekly photographer and others. I believe they regularly credit photographers, stock image companies and illustrators for “digital composite” illustrations. I’m not sure how this is different.

    Anyway, that’s it for me on this subject. Wishing you all happy holidays and a productive and prosperous 2012.


  1. TIME 'Person Of The Year' Covers: The Winner And The Reject | Very Artistical | Music, art, culture, and race - December 16, 2011

    […] Time 2011 Person of the Year Cover by Shepard Fairey/Ted Soqui (illustrationage.com) […]


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