Obama as an icon

A few weeks ago I went to Zürich and while there visited the Museum für Gestaltung and their exhibition Head to Head political portraits. I found it fascinating. They had a series of Angela Merkel portraits that showed her throughout her political career. They also had a series of Arnold Schwarzenegger film posters flanked by his gubernatorial portrait. Going from that to the Conan the Barbarian poster was quite the contrast.

They also paid attention to Che Guevarra and Yulia Tymoshenko, who you can see on the scan of the exhibition brochure to the left(by the way you need to go to her trippy site). The commonalities between all the political posters and what they wanted to convey: purpose, dedication, vision and trustworthiness was very interesting to see. Certain images and ideas stayed the same no matter what the time period or political persuasion.

Amidst all this propaganda it was amazing to see just how iconic the Obama poster has become in such a short time. The hope image closely resembles a Kennedy portrait in the steadfastness and vision it promotes and I think also looks a lot like the famous Che Guevara photograph seen on posters and t-shirts everywhere.  There are a lot of explanations and articles online about the Obama image along with this really good photograph of a photograph but why does this image appeal to us so?

Once I left the exhibition I looked around me at all the t-shirts stores and small alternative shops and was amazed at just how many of them were selling Obama t-shirts. Back in Amsterdam I noticed it also. They seem to be everywhere. I asked a few of the vendors if the t-shirts were selling and one commented that that were outselling the Che Guevara t-shirts 4 to 1 while another said they were doing very well. That just amazes me. So, we know the Kennedy portrait, the Guevara one and now the Obama one. How would one go about making an iconic portrait of ones self or someone else? How do you design something iconic?