Last week, it was hard to look at the Internet without seeing some version of the following meme.
The stock photo simply depicts a man checking out another woman as he walks down the street with, presumably, his girlfriend. But people used it as a metaphor for, well, pretty much anything.
While the popularity of the “Distracted Boyfriend” meme reached “Crying Jordan“-level proportions over the weekend, it’s cooled off slightly since then. (For the record, the actual name of the photograph is “Disloyal Man Walking With His Girlfriend and Looking Amazed at Another Seductive Girl.”) Memes, they are fickle things.
What does the man behind the meme think of his photo’s sudden popularity? Apparently it was as much a surprise to 45-year-old Antonio Guillem, the Barcelona-based professional photographer who took the photo, as it was to many users on social media.
Guillem answered a few burning questions over email. His responses have been lightly edited for clarity.
This photo has been everywhere. Are you making any money?
Memes haven’t given any us any kind of economic profit because most of the images haven’t been sold on the microstock agencies. They are being used without purchasing the proper license on those agencies. The sales that are related with the memes are probably a 0.00000% of our monthly revenue. It’s not relevant.
Even though it’s true that sometimes we can create a series of pictures around the same concept in its different phases, we mainly try to create content that sells, and looking at the numbers we are right most of the time. The profitability of each session is high, giving us the option to take risks and try new ways of creating content.
What was the original intent of the stock photos?
Our top selling images get more than 5,000-6,000 sales a year, while the meme photo is sold around 700 times a year. As you can imagine, we can’t worry about each one of the particular uses that have been given to our photos, as we focus on creating content that can be sold thousands of times, even though the meme situation can be surprising.
The session took place in mid-2015 in Gerona (Catalonia, Spain) and because we were having a great 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.
The setting was completely improvised. As I always work with the same models, it was quite easy to create the situation even though it was quite challenging to achieve facial expressions that were believable.
Do you have any issues with how your photos being used online?
All our images are subject to copyright laws and the license agreements of the microstock agencies, so each person using the images without the license is doing it illegally. This is not the thing that really worries us, as they 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.
What really worries us and we are not going to allow it, taking the appropriate legal measures, is the use of the images in a pejorative, offensive or any way that can harm the models or me.
Why do you think it became so popular?
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.