Brian McCarty: Obama (toy) at the Lorraine Motel

Lorraine Motel
Fine art toy photographer Brian McCarty created this image for the stellar Manifest Hope: DC Gallery art exhibition that opened this weekend. Brian took the photo at the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968. Brian tells me:
People either love the shot or hate it, mostly because of the darker implications of putting Obama there. My goal was to foster discussion, especially since race is still the elephant in the room. For reasons very worthy of discussion, Obama was the only candidate NOT to visit the Lorraine...
Manifest Hope: DC Gallery


  1. “My goal was to foster discussion”

    I really hate it when artists say this, because it’s invariably regarding a work that is blatantly offensive and intended to be.

    “oh I have nothing against the flag; I took a crap on it to start a discussion”

    “I’m not a nazi, I’m only an artist who wears an SS uniform while sodomizing a goat to start an important dialogue about the holocaust”

  2. Is it just me, or do those cars look suspiciously like 60’s cars in newish condition? Is that part of the point?

  3. I really hate it when artists say this, because it’s invariably regarding a work that is blatantly offensive and intended to be.

    I think the word you’re searching for is “provocative“.

    (I really hate it when people feel like they have a “right not to be offended”.)

  4. Being a fire fighter in Memphis has some advantages. We have a key that fits every building (an axe) and I get to talk to people that are in the know on pretty much every death in the Memphis area.

    The Lorraine Motel is right behind one of our fire stations (station 2). I’ve talked to a few fire fighters that were working there the day Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated – they had a few interesting stories to tell. Nothing I would ever repeat.

    I also talked to one of the fire fighters that made the scene when Elvis Presley died – he’s still on the job. This is what he told me when I asked him about it, “I was told not to talk about it and I’m not going to talk about it.”

  5. “My goal was to foster discussion”

    Also known as trolling. I don’t believe the purpose of art is to foster discussion. Or it is a very small part of it. One function is to say something about the human condition. Conceptual art is actually very hard to do well. Most conceptual artists simply make very poor visual puns. You really need to think it all the way through about just what exactly it is you want to say. Is it worth it? If not then keep your mouth, your medium, shut. But many artists today don’t have anything worthwhile to say and many Americans are unable to comprehend it anyway so I guess it’s a wash.

  6. I’m sure J*Rock of Jailbreak Toys would find the use of his Obama Action Figure in this work to be super whack.

  7. There are two ways to look at this photo. One is that Obama’s doppelganger is a sitting duck. The other is that it’s making a pilgrimage of sorts (in spite of the real Obama not visiting the Lorraine).

    I can see how this could be objectionable, but the secondary point of view could be seen as positive.

    My goal with this comment is to foster discussion. ; )

  8. Is it “provocative?” To be sure.
    But “offensive?” That judgement seems to be a bit harsh, even unfair.

    This country has a long history of assassinating African American men who “rise above their place,” in the parlance of the racist elements among us. That is a simple fact about who we are, as Americans.

    How can we honestly discuss race in our culture, if we cannot acknowledge that these “offensive” traits exist within us?

    The elephant in the room that the artist is acknowledging is the fear many of us have, that Obama will be assassinated, just as so many revolutionary leaders before him have.

    The fear that Obama will be killed in office is real. Many people feel it, including myself.

    This work illuminates that fear.

    And that fear needs to have a bright light shined on it.

    This is a pretty successful piece of art, because it does just that.

  9. @15 Hagrid

    i completely agree with you. knowing brian as i do, you have grasped exactly what his image is trying to evoke.

    there is an elephant in the room. may people open their eyes and acknowledge its existence.

    he has succeeded in fostering discussion. i for one, am proud of him.

  10. I would be in the camp that feels that this is offensive and counter to the effort of making this country a better place…

    By giving it this attention, Boing Boing is contributing.

  11. if the entire inauguration were to go up in a mushroom cloud, who is poised to seize – err, “pick up” the pieces?

  12. Ehh. . . I find it neither provocative nor offensive, nor even particularly “fine art”, just a mildly interesting photo of a toy placed in a real-life situation.

    “Obama was the only candidate NOT to visit the Lorraine”– well duh, unlike the white candidates he has nothing to prove regarding race in America. What exactly is there to discuss? (Or are you trying to imply he’s a racist? I don’t know where to begin on that.)

  13. @ #20 posted by Takuan

    Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. He’s the (I forgot the real term) highest-level person who will be (intentionally) absent from the inauguration. Standard procedure for events like the State of the Union Address and other events were the highest levels of leadership are gathered together. Gates was the choice for this time, but it could be other people for other events. He’ll be sitting out the inauguration at a military base.

  14. @Tom Hale: I thought you meant Elvis was still on the job, and the firefighter was asked not to speak about the “death”.

    I need to put the Internet down and move away for a while.

  15. Art,

    just because you don’t see the value in something, doesn’t make it bs. Read Hagrid @ 15. How is this not a valid comment on the current state-of-mind of the US?

  16. @ #15 (Hagrid)

    i agree with you. it’s horrifying to think about, but it’s a possibility we need to consider. confronting the dark sides of our nation isn’t pleasant, but it should be done. i don’t believe this photo is akin to “trolling”… i mean, he never even MENTIONS hitler!

  17. @ #25 posted by Takuan

    Former SAIC Corporate Vice President for Strategic Assessment and Development, and current Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Ryan Henry. (I knew him in the Navy.)

  18. @ #34 posted by Takuan:

    No, but I can probably get you in. ; )

    (By the way, this guy was stand-offish and fairly humorless, perfect for government work.)

  19. Odd, I was unaware that there is an elephant that needs talking about. Far as I can tell it gets plenty of press. Which is why I don’t buy the spin that this is a very urgent topic that no one is talking about. “Wait wait! Everyone stop talking about that elephant and look at me! Look at me me me! [..] Um… Why are you all ignoring that elephant in the room and looking at me?”

  20. Hi all,

    Thanks a lot for all of the comments, negative and positive. I meant what I said – the primary purpose of the photo is to foster discussion. Seems it’s done that well, in areas I didn’t think it would.

    The piece isn’t about whether or not Obama is in danger of assassination. What president isn’t? The Lorraine is the site of a horrible tragedy, but it has been turned into a place of hope, education, and respect with the birth of the National Civil Rights Museum. Every american should visit.

    When composing the photo, there was a far better angle from the actual spot where Dr. King lost his life, but I was highly uncomfortable putting Obama there, but not only for the obvious reason. Obama’s election is historical and healing, but he has not yet proven himself. How he treats the next four to eight years will be the deciding factor. Despite the hope many of us have, will he be as great a man as Dr. King.

    For now, Obama is coming up the stairs, looking over in respect of Dr. King’s legacy, and maybe taking the torch. Time will tell.

    As for why Obama didn’t visit the Lorraine in the campaign, I believe that it would have been a political liability. Race was the mostly ignored elephant in the room, but maybe it needed to be. Whatever the reason may be, it is important to discuss.

    Successful piece of art or not, I appreciate everyone commenting.

  21. I saw it as “Look how far we’ve come. Look how close we are to experience a repeat of that tragic day.”

  22. isn’t it great how someone with as much power as Ryan Henry has next to nothing on the web??!! It makes you feel SECURE!

  23. @ #39 posted by Takuan

    You’re right, I can’t even find what book he wrote. I did find this though:

    Per Wiki:

    Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Ryan Henry was the Bush administration’s point man when the U.S. accidentally delivered nuclear missile components to Taiwan. (

    The Council of Canadians acquired a leaked copy of the agenda and guest list, which is posted below: American Participants: Sec. Ryan Henry, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy; (

  24. I’m not glad someone is voicing my fear of a mushroom cloud over DC, because it seems slightly less batshit now. I need to stop watching reruns of Jericho.

  25. @ #47 posted

    A mushroom cloud is less likely than a cloud of radioactive dirt and dust. The odds are higher than I’d like to acknowledge, unfortunately.

  26. Arkizzle-

    The hackneyed excuse of all lesser artist’s is the old, “I did this piece to create a dialog” routine.
    That is what I am referring to when I called bs on it.

    This work has no value other than the shock of something that is an obvious, unspeakable and terrible fear.

    I pray for my new president every day and I simply abhor the imagery in this picture.

    1. The hackneyed excuse of all lesser artist’s is the old, “I did this piece to create a dialog” routine.

      Care to provide some examples for that?

  27. If I tattooed a picture of Obama on my penis and got it posted on Boing Boing, I bet that would generate a lot of discussion.

    I also think it’s ridiculous to call race the “elephant in the room,” unless there is some proverbial elephant in the room that everyone talks about almost constantly on cable news and public radio.

    That being said, I don’t think this is offensive. Then again, I don’t think my penis is offensive. Getting a tattoo on my penis is extremely offensive, though.

  28. Hi Brian, with your intentions as you describe them, I think the piece is unsuccessful.

    I don’t think race was the elephant in the room in this campaign, sometimes it seemed like the media could talk about nothing else. Obama certainly avoided stereotyping himself as a Black candidate with a capital B, but thats because he ran his campaign with a candor and frankness that made his ethnicity irrelevant, IMO.

    The choice of site for the photograph was poor, because the issue of race is bound to, and completely consumed by, the issue of assasination.

    Hagrid’s critique of the image and it’s meaning is far more compelling than yours. The issue of assasination hanging over Obama IS the elephant in the room. It touches on the dark underbelly of fundamentalism and extremism in the US, your shadow self.

    Maybe you should consider changing your story! ;p

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