Give Credit Where Credit’s Due: A Photographer’s Hellish Journey Of Being Used
“At first, I didn’t think it spread far.”
In October of 2017, Christal VanEtten, along with her friends Luis and Brian, went to Lucky’s Drive-In in Parkland, WA for a photoshoot. As VanEtten puts it, “we were filming and shooting content with a focus on Michael and Jason since Friday the 13th happened to fall in October that year.” The photo shows Jason and Michael relaxing in front of the diner, each holding a milkshake and looking off into the distance. It’s the simplicity of the image that makes it so appealing … and disarming. For horror fans, these two icons are killing machines. Jason has the highest body count of any slasher while Michael is an evil abyss. To see them so casually enjoying a friendly moment outside a classic ’50s-era diner is deceptive yet undeniably charming.
What followed is something VanEtten never could’ve imagined. The image went viral and has since been circulated throughout the internet by the largest of Facebook pages, shared on Twitter countless times, and even posted on Jamie Lee Curtis’ Instagram. However, one thing remains universally consistent: VanEtten almost always has to ask for credit.
While the photoshoot was done in October of 2017, the image itself didn’t get widespread attention until the following summer. As VanEtten recalls, “I suddenly was being tagged in comments by friends and colleagues on posts from other pages. ‘Isn’t this yours?'” The immediate attention naturally came with that adrenalized high whenever something goes viral. “Having something of mine go viral is exciting and something I’m still pinching myself about,” she exclaims. But that feeling quickly subsided when the image was thrown into a meme generator.
For those unaware, a meme generator allows pretty much anyone to caption images with their own words. The images can be uploaded by the user or, as is most often the case, they come from a pre-uploaded template, such as Bill Murray’s Caddyshack screengrab “So I Got That Goin’ For Me, Which Is Nice” or the once-popular Overly Attached Girlfriend.
“That’s the unfortunate reality of this. I don’t know if the person who made the meme was aware of where the image came from. I’d like to give the benefit of the doubt, but it put a dent in the happy feeling for me as the creator who coordinated and photographed this shoot. The more it was shared without credit, the more I was disconnected from my own work,” VanEtten explains.
VanEtten has been trying to combat each infraction as she learns of them. She recently reached out to Facebook page Horror Maniacs about meme-ing a different photo from the same shoot, which went live on August 5. As of this post being published, no credit has been given.
On July 6, Facebook meme page Funny on the Inside posted the same image that Jamie Lee Curtis did, once again without credit. The post garnered thousands of ‘Likes’, amassed tens of thousands of shares, and generated nearly 3,000 comments. VanEtten politely requested the page edit the post so that credit could be given, to which she was given a one-word reply: “no”. Doubling down, the page even deleted comments that tagged VanEtten’s name and Facebook page.
For some, being in such a situation would be utterly demoralizing. This is a scenario that artists and creators consistently worry about. For an image to go this wide without proper credit means that VanEtten is not getting the appreciation and recognition that she rightfully deserves, which means that she’s not getting potential business from people who want a shoot done by a photographer who went viral. Furthermore, VanEtten sells prints of her photographs and sells a beach towel with the viral image. Every share that doesn’t credit her is a potential loss of business. A similar situation recently occurred involving Etsy artist StabandStitch.
The virality of the image didn’t go unnoticed, however. Rue Morgue’s now-defunct Coffin Box commissioned VanEtten for her photograph so they could include it in the monthly subscription box. As she explains, “After a week of messaging pages asking them to help reconnect The Superghoul to the image by crediting my page, I received an e-mail from Horror Pack asking if I’d be interested in having prints of the image in October 2018’s Rue Morgue Coffin Box. I happily sent 1000 prints. They reimbursed the cost of printing and shipping in addition to compensation. Seeing the unboxing videos and subscribers get a kick out of the print was so rewarding to me. That and the fact there’s a Marine walking around in Las Vegas with it tattooed on his leg. When he sent photos to me, I about passed out in disbelief. It was amazing.”
For those who wish to point fingers at VanEtten by demanding to know why she didn’t watermark the images properly, no one is more critical than herself. “This was quite the lesson for me. Moving forward I know to watermark my photos, because I now have my work on Jamie Lee Curtis’ Instagram without credit thanks to the virality of the meme.”
Watermarks, as many artists know, are also tricky territory. If they’re too large or placed in the wrong spot, they defeat the purpose. But if they’re too small or placed off to the side, they can be photoshopped or even cropped out.
At the end of the day, VanEtten boils everything down to one simple thought: “I just really hope that people consider the artists and creators they save and share from.”