Last month, a VICE Spain contributor wrote about how modeling for stock photos was the biggest mistake of his life. Within a year he'd become, among other things, the face of a horrifying penis condition. He's not alone—models (stock or non-stock) often have no say in where and how pictures of their faces and bodies end up.
We asked models from around Europe about the worst ways their faces have been used.
Priscilla Rossi, 27, France
If you google "natural afro hair" or "curly hair" on Google Images, you'll find dozens of pictures of me. That's due to the fact that I run a successful French beauty blog and that I take great care of my SEO. The result is that my pictures come up a lot, even though I'm not a professional model. It's awesome because many people stumble upon my blog that way, but there's also a downside to it—loads of people use my pictures like it's stock photography they've paid for. When I confront people about it, they always say something along the lines of, "But I found it on the Internet!" like that suddenly makes it OK.
I regularly find websites using my picture—and even brands do the same, without my permission. In 2015, a graphic designer working for a huge French retail group used one of my pictures to promote hair products in a supermarket. Six months later, an international cosmetics brand did the exact same thing.
But the worst of them all are Glutathione Cosmetics because they use my face to promote skin-whitening products. I've hired two lawyers to get them to stop using my picture, but so far we haven't managed to get a response. They're based in Atlanta and it looks like they have retailers all over the Africa. Each time some retailer stops using my picture, another one pops up—it just never ends. Their Facebook page has over 250,000 likes, and the fact that they use my face suggests that I think light skin is more beautiful than dark skin. That couldn't be further from the truth. They've turned me into the poster girl for something I don't believe in at all, something that's sending women a very wrong message.
Silvia Bottini, Italy
This photo was taken in a temple in Shanghai, in 2008. The photographer was my then-boyfriend—these days he's quite a big name in stock photography. When we were together I'd often make sure to be dressed in neutral colors and have makeup so he could take a picture when inspiration hit. That's what happened with this photo—we were on vacation together and he just asked me to pose for him while crying. Shortly after he had uploaded the picture on stock image websites, I was sent the first round of First World Problems memes that used my crying face. At first, I was really angry; image banks should take better care of their content.
When I explained what had happened to the photographer, he said I could maybe sue the websites hosting the photograph, but it was unlikely I'd get anything out of it. I've seen some really gross and offensive ones, and now and then I have asked people to take them down. At some point, people started finding out my name and they looked me up online. I read comments like, "On her Facebook profile she's always complaining, this meme suits her perfectly." That was pretty annoying, but I've become attached to the meme over the years. I live in Los Angeles, and although I've worked as an actress for 15 years and won awards for it, none of that gives me the access or notoriety that being part of this meme has given me. So I basically decided to let go of my principles and create, along with some friends, a web series about my First World Problems character.
Rolien, 25, the Netherlands
When I was 18, I was living and modeling in London, and I used to do these shoots with a photographer friend of mine. It was basically at the height of the Lady Gaga era and we did a couple of semi-nude shoots with that kind of aesthetic. The series got published in some arty magazine there.
About a year later this photographer emailed me saying he had just been in a department store, and saw a clothing rack full of men's T-shirts with a picture of me wearing just a jacket printed on them—a bit of tape covering my nipples. It turned out that some brand had just taken a photo from that shoot without asking permission, printed it on the shirt and added some shitty artwork. They gave me wings, for fuck's sake. My body was for sale on an ugly men's shirt for $70, in different shops and department stores—and a load of online stores too.
The T-shirts were taken out of production immediately after we threatened to sue them, but that's about the only thing they did—neither of us ever received any compensation. The whole situation also drove a wedge between the photographer and me, so the experience as a whole left a bitter taste. Anyway, there might be people out there walking around with an 18-year-old semi-nude me on their T-shirts.
Kimberley Jackson, 29, United Kingdom
This one time in 2012 I was at a fashion event at The Montcalm hotel in London, and when I went upstairs to get changed, some photographers followed me saying, "Kimberly, give us a shot on the stairs!" I don't normally do revealing shots, hands over the boobs is basically the most revealing I will ever do, but at that moment I was pretty into it.
The next day I noticed the Daily Mail ran a headline "You're not going to win his heart now…Bachelor contestant strips off to her underwear for revealing pic at fashion event" with that picture of me lounging on the stairs. Apparently, they thought I had been on The Bachelor, trying to win the heart of Gavin Henson. I was like, who is Gavin Henson? I know who he is now, he's a Welsh rugby player. But I wouldn't go on a program to compete over him, obviously. Apparently, there were loads of people from that season of the show at the event, and I think one of them made it to the catwalk. That wasn't me, though. I didn't even know The Bachelor UK existed, I thought it was an American thing.
Jérôme Rupf, 22, Germany
Two years ago, I was modeling in London when a photographer asked me on Instagram if he could do a shoot with me. He couldn't pay me and it wasn't through my agency, but I wanted to build my portfolio so I agreed.
The people on set were really nice and the shoot was fun. It was a bit different than the kind of shoots I normally do—they made me stand very still, like a doll, and styled me in things like super short red shorts, a golden leather jacket, and a pearly raincoat, for example. I was shirtless for most of the shoot.
Six months later I saw the pictures in an online magazine—enhanced by pastel illustrations. They had turned me into a Ken doll. I hadn't been expecting that, so I messaged the photographer but he didn't answer. I didn't see the point in making a huge deal out of it, but they should have told me what the shoot was for. Now, I always ask about the concept before I agree to a do a shoot.
Jadranka Joksimović, 20, Serbia
I did a shoot for a Serbian magazine once—it was supposed to be a spread for swimsuits. They had booked me and a few other girls and knew what sizes we would be, but when they were styling us they kept saying things like, "We didn't expect the swimsuits to be this small on you guys" and that they couldn't believe the agency had sent girls like us. The shoot took hours, they made a billion photos of us in different swimsuits and poses.
But when the issue with the shoot came out, the "spread" turned out to be a one pager and they had cut off our heads. The headline said something like: "It's time to show off the body you suffered for all winter!" The whole thing was just fake bullshit.
Patricia Sluka, 26, Switzerland
For one of my first jobs, I was booked to model in a photo for the Christmas card of an amateur football club. They wanted to send a special card to their sponsors. A photographer friend of mine asked me for it, and because I was just starting out I didn't know what to expect. He asked me if I was down to do something provocative, but said that the picture wouldn't be public and that there wouldn't be any nudity. So I thought: Fine, I'll do it.
The resulting photo looked more like a promotional shot for an S&M studio than a greeting card for a football club. They had us do a couple of different shots, in one the player was in the middle on his hands and knees, looking into the camera. He had a heavy chain around his neck, while I was standing on his right holding the other end of the chain. A blonde model was on his right, striking out with a whip. The subject itself doesn't bother me at all, but when I saw the end result I thought that it looked a bit grubby, and really pointless for an amateur football club.