Stock image modelling has been around for a long time now, but started making wave in the 1920s, with private firms creating vast catalogues of the professional image of models, which could possibly be licensed to other companies at a particular price, down to 1990s, firms sold most of their stock images to asking clients on CD Roms.
In our today’s internet age, there are countless of stock images available in the digital archives of firms like Shutterstock, iStock, Getty Images, for the purpose of adding beauty to online journalism, graphic designing, billboards, newsletters, and many other creations that may require the use of quality images.
While the composition of stock photos varies from dogs playing the piano in a nightclub to a pensioner sipping wine through a straw while wearing a face mask and surrounded by toilet papers, the final use of the pictures is highly unpredictable.
Most stock images have been used on articles with funny or annoying headlines, while some led the advertisement of absolutely embarrassing brands. What if your cousin’s face or photo is used as a stock image for advertising a product you aren’t proud of? – Especially when he has signed away his right to say, hey, “stop”.
Jim Murtagh who has been involved in stock image modelling spoke to The Independent about what it was like, how much he earned and whether he would like to do it again given another opportunity.
Jim Murtagh, 28, New York
“I did the stock photos back in 2016 when I was heavily involved in the comedy scene in New York. I knew a lot of comics that were doing stock photo shoots for this website, Reductress; an American satire website, and I thought it would be good for publicity so I signed up. The office happened to be near my doctor so I just went by one day after an appointment.
“I’m not sure exactly how many photos were taken but the whole shoot lasted about an hour and I was paid absolutely no money to do it. At first, I just had to stand near a window and smile to get some generic ‘nice boy’ shots but then they had me sit at a computer and make several different expressions to go with different headlines they would use me for.
“They did not provide the clothes or props. I used my own computer, my own sweater, and my own dumb face. The experience was fine and shockingly quick. The photographers were super nice and kept thanking me for doing the shoot. It was overall a good experience.
“I agreed that the images could be used for an article – I do not have any veto power on what they use it for. Over the years it has become clear that any piece about any man, alt-right troll, or incel screaming at women on the internet features me; the photos on my computer really sealed my fate. I don’t think I’ve been a good person in any of the articles.
“One headline was ‘True Ally? This Man Died’. That’s the closest I’ve ever come to being a good person. That article is one of the few where I’m not doing anything gross or violent towards women. The worst one is probably ‘How to Spot the Twinkle in His Eye That Says He’s Going to Masturbate to You Later’ because it’s just so insanely gross and creepy. Doesn’t help that I’m smiling in the picture. True serial killer vibes.
“It makes me laugh a lot when my photo pops up again. Even though I’m always a horrible person it’s just so over the top that I have to laugh. I think most people know the site is satire so hopefully, they don’t actually think I’m a horrible human being. And people who know me also seem to get a kick out of it.
“But people send me examples constantly. That might be the most annoying part about it all. When someone from college sends me an article like ‘Is this you?’ I just wanna say: ‘Yeah it was four years ago leave me alone we don’t talk anymore’. And my family is confused; I explained to my aunts and uncles that it is satire so the articles are fake but they still barely get it. They always tell me I should get a lawyer. They don’t understand why I’d do it willingly.
“When you do stock photos you’re signing away your likeness. It’s not an acting gig where you’re playing a character that you signed on for. It’s just your face paired with potentially insane statements. I always wonder about other people in stock images when they go viral.
“There’s the one you always see of the older guy with the beard that looks uncomfortable. He’s used for memes a lot. He’s probably just a normal guy that eats soup and loves his spouse but his face is so famous.
“I really hope people don’t have a bad opinion of me from the photos. Someone on Twitter once said they probably use my photo for terrible headlines because I look like a nice person. I hope more people feel that way. I would definitely do it again if I had the chance (but I probably would comb my hair this time). I would tell other people; be careful if you ever decide to do stock photos. Don’t just do it cause the office happens to be near your doctor.”