Less than two minutes into President Barack Obama’s speech, one of Richard’s photos was posted alongside Obama in the live stream extended version online to help illustrate one of his points. The image was of a Muni bus – a familiar symbol in San Francisco – and was posted as the president was speaking about how hard-working Americans over the past year helped “make the state of our union strong.”
But Richard wasn’t aware of his photo’s placement in such a prominent speech.
Richard, who missed the address during its live broadcast, didn’t learn of the use of his bus image until he received a call the following morning. He was informed that the photo from his Flickr account was properly credited with his account name, “Torbakhopper,” although no one had contacted him prior to the broadcast about using the image.
San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Director Ed Reiskin pointed out the local bus with the tweet, “Check out @sfmta_muni bus placement on #SOTU website!”
The high-profile posting also drew excitement from the photographer himself, even though the spotlight was short-lived.
“I was like, ‘Wow, that’s something historic for a brief second,’” said Richard, who also works as a painter and documents Muni vehicles with photos for The City. “I’m glad that the White House staff chose to use it; I think that’s really impressive.”
On its blog regarding the State of the Union, the White House said the graphics, data and charts are streamed during the speech to help explain the policies and issues.
While his work became part of the broadcast without his knowledge, Richard called it flattering. He is supportive of openly sharing his images, many times without being paid.
Richard said some photos have had thousands of viewers in the past, but never quite on the national stage like on Tuesday. Though he may have preferred one of his photos depicting a more impactful topic like gay marriage rather than a bus, he’ll take what he can get.
“I’m honored that out of everything they could’ve chosen, they picked the free one from me,” he said.