Industry News

Atlanta Photographer Speaks Out on Image Used in Controversial UK Ad

October 21, 2020

By Jacqueline Tobin

© Krys Alex

This is photographer Krys Alex's original image, posted by her to the stock photography sharing platform Unsplash. Taken for the Atlanta dance studio Vibez in Motion, the image captures young dancer Desire’e as she laces up one of her ballet shoe as she sits next to the studio owner. In the controversial UK ad, Desire'e has become "Fatima."

Atlanta-based portrait, lifestyle and wedding photographer Krys Alex spoke out last week after an image she took and posted to the royalty-free stock photography platform Unsplash was used in a controversial UK government ad campaign. The ads encouraging creatives to retrain for a new career have been broadly criticized for discouraging and devaluing artists. After the ad went viral on October 12, Alex posted a video to YouTube saying that she was “devastated” that her picture of two ballet dancers she photographed in an Atlanta dance studio was at the core of the controversy.

The “Cyber First” campaign originally circulated in the UK in 2019 with the tagline “Rething. Reskill. Reboot” and encouraged creatives to consider the field of cyber security. The campaign drew a firestorm of criticism after one of the ads—of a young dancer named “Fatima”—went viral on Twitter on October 12, 2020.

[Read: Instagram’s Bombshell on Copyright for Embedded Images]

The original image of two ballet dancers that ended up in the "Fatima' ad campaign.
© Krys Alex

Alex’s original image (above) was taken for the Atlanta dance studio Vibez in Motion and shows young dancer Desire’e lacing up one of her ballet shoes as she sits next to studio owner and director Tasha Williams. In the UK government ad (below), Williams has been cropped out and Desire’e became “Fatima.”

The controversy picked up steam after British choreographer Sir Matthew Bourne shared the ad in his own Tweet on October 12 alongside a caption that read, “This has to be a joke? Right?” Apparently, the UK campaign has been widely criticized in the wake of British politician Rishi Sunak’s suggestion that those in the creative industries who are out of work due to the pandemic should simply retrain and find other jobs.

Everyone wants to know who the Fatima is in this ad using Krys Alex's cropped image.

“I was shocked,” Alex admits in her YouTube video posted on October 14, explaining that she didn’t know about the usage of the image prior to the controversy it caused: “I woke up that Monday morning to a bunch of emails and texts, and I really felt devastated. I immediately thought about Desire’e and how her face was just plastered all over social media and the internet.”

Talking about the widespread memes and news coverage that were to follow, Alex states: “Some people questioned if I knew, and if I approved the use of my work. If I had known this was going to be used in the way it was, I would never have agreed to it. I feel like artists should stand together and support each other. Our hard work deserves to be recognized, and we should not be encouraged to stop doing what we love.”

[Read: Photographer Wins Landmark Case Against BuzzFeed]

On the dance studio’s Instagram, owner Williams thanks Alex for speaking out about the UK government campaign, adding that the ad is “unforgivable.”

As for what happens next, the photographer says she is exploring all her options. “We’re consulting with different professionals to figure out the best way to protect our rights in this situation. I really want to thank members of the creative community for being so supportive and encouraging to all of us right now.”

[Read: What Photographers Need to Know About Copyright Law]

Photographers definitely need to be aware that royalty-free, copyright-free sites like Unsplash are not set up in their favor. These sites allow users access to high-quality photography for free—thereby devaluing the work—and do whatever they want with them. It also means that bigger companies and clients who can afford great photography simply don’t see the need to anymore.

Many professional photographers agree that sites like Unsplash are terrible for them. If you need convincing, just read the terms on Unsplash under “License”: “All photos published on Unsplash can be downloaded and used for free. You can use them for commercial and noncommercial purposes. You do not need to ask permission from the image owner (though attribution is appreciated).”