I Found My Boyfriend's Face on a Dating Website

Arts, entertainment, and more.
March 29 2012 1:23 PM

I Found My Boyfriend's Face on a Dating Website

The weird world of stock photography literally tore us apart.

(Continued from Page 1)

Eventually I found a photo of me and Patrick, trendily holding hands in the street. The caption read, “Trendy couple holding hands in the street.” We were selling at a base rate of $45.

But this wasn’t the image that HowAboutWe had used for its campaign. No, that was “Couple laughing,” another of the eight Reyhan-and-Patrick photos available on the site. The mix of fascination and embarrassment that had defined the experience for me thus far deepened as I scrolled through them: “Happy couple;” “Couple sitting on hillside;” "Couple sitting at home on couch;” et cetera. In addition to a title, every image had keywords. For “Couple laughing” these read like found poetry: facial expression / human relationships / smiling / headgear.

OK, I’d found the pictures online. But Jenny couldn’t tell me who else might have bought our pictures. She gets a statement when her images sell, but these take the form of an incomprehensible jumble of letters and numbers. (Even for a photographer, stock images can be a kind of black hole.)


Having tapped Jenny for the meager information she could provide, my next step was to contact the stock agency itself. It was an unproductive and apparently unusual event. Thad Westhusing, vice president of Veer, had no information to share with me, though he did inform me that he rarely hears from models. “It’s really the photographer who has the relationship to the stock agency,” he said.

I was still confused about the terms of use for the eight photos of me and Patrick. When Veer sells pictures to a client, can that client alter them at will? My biggest fear remained some kind of outrageous Photoshopping, maybe along the lines of what happened to a man in New York, who cried when he saw that his leg had been digitally chopped off for a billboard about the dangers of diabetes. It was hard to pin down Westhusing on the rules governing stock images. There are many different contracts available to photographers, he said, and each has different terms. In general, though, clients have a lot of leeway to alter the images, as long as long as the manipulations are not “libelous.”

According to Simon Frankel, a copyright lawyer in San Francisco, the legal language in my model release form did not bode well for future litigation. He could not recall any court cases deciding in favor of a model who had signed away her rights as unambiguously as I had. “It’s hard to see what your claim would be,” he said. “Consent is critical as a defense to a claim.”

At this point, any pleasurable frisson from the inadvertent modeling gig was gone. I tried another lawyer, Carolyn E. Wright, who maintains a website devoted to photo-law issues. She told me the same thing as Frankel, with an added dose of condescension. Now I was feeling queasy and confused. Jenny had done her best to make us look happy and shiny, but I am ridiculously unphotogenic as a rule (eyes closed, chin-forward; Tyra has taught me nothing). How could this be happening to me, of all people?

When I expressed my wonderment about being chosen as an online dating model to Brian Schechter, a co-founder of HowAboutWe, he laughed. “That’s the point,” he said, echoing a comment from Westhusing about how the stock industry has been tilting toward “normal” people. HowAboutWe began putting together its national campaign last year. While Schechter didn’t remember choosing the exact images for my particular ad, he said the faces were a mix of actual HowAboutWe members and stock images, with the goal of showing attractive, but approachable, people.

Just as I was feeling good about my industry-approved attractive approachability, Schechter set me straight. Click-throughs and conversion rates for my ads and Patrick’s were low—low enough for the company to start phasing them out. It turned out we weren’t that approachable, and it wasn’t just us—the whole campaign was getting pulled. “The grid is what we’re moving away from,” Schechter said, mentioning that they’d been doing some new photo shoots with professional models.

When I told Patrick the good news—that the ads were going away—he wasn’t very excited. “I just regret signing the release,” he said. I do, too. The HowAboutWe campaign was fairly harmless and mostly funny, but after looking deeper into the stock-photo industry, I’d realized that worse things could happen. Easily. Our faces might be conscripted for any purpose, to sell almost any product, in any medium, with any modification, for a duration described by my release as “perpetuity.”

We probably won’t even know the next time our images get bought. This is both disturbing and common: In talks with professional photographers, I learned that even famous photos are hard to protect with copyright claims. We live in a time when stock photos function like the visual equivalent of Muzak—ubiquitous and invisible, easy to find and impossible to remember. As they spread, and as we acquire more and more devices on which to view them, it’s tempting for an unwilling model to just throw up her hands. For now, I'm glad to know that if my boyfriend has to appear on another online dating ad, I might get to be right there with him, frozen in Internet amber as a “trendy couple holding hands.” At least that's how I feel right now. It might not be so amusing if Patrick and I ever were to break up.



Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Cheez-Its. Ritz. Triscuits.

Why all cracker names sound alike.

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

The Afghan Town With a Legitimately Good Tourism Pitch

A Futurama Writer on How the Vietnam War Shaped the Series

  News & Politics
Sept. 21 2014 11:34 PM People’s Climate March in Photos Hundreds of thousands of marchers took to the streets of NYC in the largest climate rally in history.
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 21 2014 1:15 PM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 5  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Time Heist."
Brow Beat
Sept. 21 2014 2:00 PM Colin Farrell Will Star in True Detective’s Second Season
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 21 2014 8:00 AM An Astronaut’s Guided Video Tour of Earth
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.