The stock photographer on his process, how he didn’t know what the social media phenomenon was and why all your meme-making is actually illegal
We’ve already embarked on one journey this year into the sometimes twisted, absolutely WTF-is-going-on-why-is-that-baby-smoking world of stock photography with @darkstockphotos. In the last few weeks, a new incongruous stock image-turned-viral sensation has taken over Twitter, what you may know as the ‘Distracted Boyfriend Meme’. The image has morphed into a vessel for everything from political and social commentary, to obscure anime references and hyperspecific moments in your own life or mid-2000s pop culture. It's now even got its own film trailer.
The original photo, titled “Disloyal Man Walking With His Girlfriend and Looking Amazed at Another Seductive Girl”, was taken by photographer Antonio Guillem, who hails from Barcelona. The social media phenomenon is easily reproduced to fit any story, culture or moment you or someone else got a bit fucked over. Guillem spoke to Dazed and other media outlets about the origins of the internet fave, which will probably be a distant memory in the Twittersphere hive mind once this writer here hits publish.
THE PHOTOGRAPHER DIDN’T KNOW WHAT A MEME WAS
Guillem says he “started without having any kind of idea of this businesss, and I didn’t even know a thing about photography.” This Distracted Boyfriend sitch is the first he’s experienced, and he’s described it as “surprising”. It was his models that first discovered the social media phenomenon and its escalating popularity on social media. And though he is a human being with access to the internet, he says: “I didn’t even know what a meme is until recently, when the models started to tell me about the memes that people were doing with our work.”
He attributes its success to all the shit-hot memers out there too, and gives a blessing: “I think the image was a good foundation to whoever had the great idea to turn it into a metaphor that works for almost everything. And that’s not our merit.”
WE HAVE A TURKISH PROG ROCK FACEBOOK GROUP TO THANK FOR THIS MEME
According to the Tumblr page Meme Documentation, Distracted Boyfriend can be traced back to a post in a Facebook group named “Great Answers to Prog Enemies”. It’s a mainly Turkish group for people who love prog rock, as Wired reports. What’s thought to be the birth of the meme is a post from January this year, where the boyfriend is slapped with the name ‘Phil Collins’, jealous girlfriend is ‘prog rock’, and the seductive woman is ‘pop’. What an origin story. It took until earlier in August this year for this meme to totally pop though, but thank you, Turkish prog rockers, for your service. And all our sympathy for your Phil Collins plight.
DISTRACTED BOYFRIEND, JEALOUS GIRLFRIEND AND ‘SEDUCTIVE GIRL’ ARE HIS MAIN CHOICE OF MODELS
With a career focused on microstock agencies, the 45-year-old has spent much of the last five years working with the same three models, though one went onto new ventures (Argos catalogues? Exclusively working on laughing-at-salads shoots?) about a year ago. The two remaining models go by Laura and Mario – their stage names – because of concerns for their privacy.
“We have a real emotional bond that exists both inside and outside work,” Guillem says. “They know that we count on me for anything and the same about them. They work exclusively for me and they are as great people as their work is. They are extremely professional and responsible, always willing to do whatever it’s necessary. I can’t ask for anything else. We have complete trust and confidence in each other.”
IT'S ACTUALLY A RISKY, FUN PIECE OF STOCK IMAGERY
The photoshoot took place in mid-2015 in Gerona, part of Catalonian region in Spain. Guillem was having a successful year, so he decided to try some new themes.
“We were having a great sales response to our work... we decided to take a few risks planning a session representing the infidelity concept in relationships in a playful and fun way,” he says. The setting was completely improvised and though the situation was easy to create, the desired facial expressions were “challenging” to get to a level of believability. There was a lot of laughing on set, and they created a storyline with multiple images and scenes (which are used in some of the meme examples), which they don't do too regularly.
HOW MEME-MAKING AFFECTS LICENSING AND BUSINESS
“My models and I work really hard and we make a living out of our work,” explains Guillem. “So the meme situation is just an anecdote that can be curious, but we haven’t worried about it until now that (it’s) starting to get out of control.”
Memes don’t provide any economic profit for Guillem and his team, because everyone on Twitter, Instagram and your fave shitposting Facebook group hasn’t acquired the proper license to use them. It’s illegal. However, it’s not something that worries Guillem. “The sales that are related with the memes are probably a 0.00000 per cent of our monthly revenue. It’s not relevant,” he adds. Their top-selling images get around 5,000-6,000 sales a year, while Distracted Boyfriend only rolls in at 700, so they aren’t too concerned. You can continue dredging your brain for more obscure uses for Twitter faves now.
USE ‘DISTRACTED BOYFRIEND’ OFFENSIVELY AND YOU’LL GET SUED
Nevertheless, if you use it in bad taste, you could face some legal action, at Guillem’s behest. He says that the majority “are just a group of people doing it in good faith, and we are not going to take any action, except for the extreme cases in which this good faith doesn’t exist.”
He asserts that he will take “the appropriate legal measures” if the image is used in a “pejorative, offensive or anyway way that (could) harm the models or me”.
“I’m talking, for example, about the image where their faces are changed by a dog face, a garbage bag, and a dog food bag,” he says. So watch it when you’re slogging away at that meme generator.