When you make a photograph as part of a personal project, the likelihood is that you'll want to share it with your peers. Often the concept is as important as the final image, so the title or description must sit alongside it for the picture to be taken in context. So what happens when a picture accidentally goes viral with no credit to the artist and more specifically, no mention of the theory behind it?
When a photograph appears on the internet, no matter how loud a person can shout 'copyright', the public often will run amock and consider it their property. Sharing your work online is a risky act, and that work will often lose itself in the many weaves of the web - often appearing uncredited on places like Pinterest, Tumblr, or even on clothing and stolen by other photographers advertising it as their own! Yet the internet is generally the only way to be heard in a digital world increasing in noise. It is an unavoidable, brilliant but dangerously anonymous place.
When Welsh photographer Shanea Gaiger (Harpyimages) worked with her youngest daughter as part of her 'Outside Influences' series, little did she know how far the image would be globally spread. Shared over 30,000 times in less than 24 hours before making it to the front pages of websites like Imgur and Plurk, Gaiger's concept soon lost its personal meaning and original context with comments from strangers plaguing the image, "praying" for the good health of the child and taking the opportunity to slam the size zero people amongst us. Many artists would be overjoyed with the idea of their pictures going viral, their hard work spread indefinitely for many more viewers to enjoy. We have even witnessed geat success from viral images, videos and projects. However, what many don’t recognise is that the term 'going viral' often comes at a cost. Internet trolls use their computers as a faceless tool to attack. Keyboard warriors come out from the cracks to point controversy in everything and even those who would usually support a story built on its own merit, are hidden from the truth and therefore don't understand it. As humans, it is usually the case that what we don't understand, is what we fear and therefore hate the most; attacking and branding concepts without a second thought for the creator or concept behind them.
Harpyimages explained to me how her feelings were a mixture of panic and anxiety over losing control of her concept. "Most photographers would be over the moon about this and in a way I am, on the other hand, I am mortified," she said. "The whole premise of the project as a whole was/is to build concepts based on the perceived and sometimes real stereotypes fed to us by the media about how the media itself affects children. The fashion image set was just one of four so far... each shot in an almost caricature and over the top style to reflect the very over the top way the media works in reporting the effects of itself... for me, its a little hypocritical."
She rightly points out that television programmes and magazine articles are full to the brim with slimming aids followed by fast food. Beauty products compounded with directions to dress a certain way in order to be considered acceptable by society - the pressure of the media is forever building. "No matter how much we practice self acceptance, we remain bombarded by conflicting images on how we should look. It is confusing for adults, let alone children." So if this was the concept Harpyimages was depicting (and in such a powerful photograph), then why was the image swamped by skinny-bashing model-hatred from outsiders? "What it wasn't was an excuse to slam anyone for their size and shape or perceived weaknesses," Gaiger explained. "It wasn't a personal vendetta against anyone or any group, nor did I think it would be used in various personal crusades to try to tear down others for their looks. The only target, was the media."
How ironic it is to find that the strength of the image has been used by others to pressure, to disrespect and to bully others for their physical appearance - everything the image was originally fighting against. "On the positive side, seeing how people have personally related to the feelings shown in a cathartic way, seeing how people have said they will speak to their children, support them, listen to them and not just brush aside their worries. Explain to their children that who they are, as themselves, is just fine and they don't HAVE to be anything other than themselves, at least they shouldn't have to. If they are happy and healthy then that should be enough. This goes for all and not just children. I hope this story is a lesson that willingness to be less judgemental and less bigoted to anyone with the ability to take the media with a big old pinch of salt...because it can't seem to decide what is 'right' for us either...and that is (at least in my mind) part of the problem."
Perhaps the lesson to us all here is to seek the story before making a judgement, both in a photograph and in every day life.
Image used with permission.