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Fatima cyber ad

‘Devastated’ photographer responds to the UK government’s Fatima cyber ad

‘If I had known this was going to be used in the way it was, I would never have agreed to it’

Krys Alex, the US photographer that originally took the photo of a ballerina used by the UK government in its viral ‘Fatima’ ad campaign, which urges creatives to retrain amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, has responded to the use of the image, saying she’s “devastated”.

As detailed in Dazed’s explainer on the dystopian ad, it shows an image of a ballerina alongside the caption: “Fatima’s next job could be in cyber (she just doesn’t know it yet).” Though it was originally part of a 2019 campaign by the government, it’s resurfaced and been widely criticised in the wake of chancellor Rishi Sunak’s suggestion that those in the creative industries that are out of work due to the pandemic should simply retrain and find other jobs.

Culture secretary Oliver Dowden is among government figures that have been forced to distance themselves from the campaign. In an October 12 Twitter post, he calls it “crass” and clarifies that it was not created by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport.

“I was shocked,” Alex says in a video posted to YouTube October 14, explaining that she didn’t know about the use of the image – which was uploaded to a stock image site – prior to the controversy it caused: “I woke up Monday morning to a bunch of emails and texts, and I really felt devastated.”

“I immediately thought about Desire’e and how her face was just plastered all over social media and the internet,” she adds, referring to the actual subject of her photograph, Desire’e Kelley: “a young, talented, and beautiful aspiring dancer from Atlanta.” Talking about the widespread memes and news coverage that were to follow, she says: “She had no clue. All of that really hurt me.”

“Some people questioned if I knew, and if I approved the use of my work. If I had known this was going to be used in the way it was, I would never have agreed to it. I feel like artists should stand together and support each other. Our hard work deserves to be recognised, and we should not be encouraged to stop doing what we love.”

The original photo also included Tasha Williams – owner of the Atlanta, Georgia dance studio Vibez in Motion – who was cropped out for the ‘Fatima’ campaign. On the dance studio’s Instagram, Williams thanks Alex for speaking out about the UK government campaign, adding that the ad is “unforgivable”.

As for what happens next, Alex says: “We’re exploring all our options and we’re consulting with different professionals to figure out the best way to protect our rights in this situation. I really want to thank members of the creative community for being so supportive and encouraging to all of us right now.”

Watch Krys Alex’s full statement on the ‘Fatima’ cyber ad below.