Two stock photo models who made a career out of being unrecognisable achieved inconvenient infamy overnight when the Internet dubbed them the ‘Distracted Boyfriend’ and ‘Jealous Girlfriend’ – you know from the most popular meme of 2018?
Meet Laura, a Spanish model, and Mario, an Italian model, both of whom live and work in Barcelona. One day they could appear in an advert for laxatives, the next a luxury city break retreat.
The next, they could be getting the meme-treatment and going viral all over the world.
After they made headlines again today (February 27, 2019) following Jack Black making the meme reality with a random couple in Atlanta, this is their story.
Distracted Boyfriend meme IRL ft Jack black 😂😂 pic.twitter.com/12Q5AD4fi1
— IDir ♓🔺 (@StoicIDir) February 25, 2019
Speaking exclusively to UNILAD, Laura and Mario described how they both fell into modelling independently of each other in their early twenties in a bid to earn some extra money.
Laura, who has just finished her university degree, hadn’t always wanted to model:
I started doing this to lose my shyness and gain confidence in myself. Although right away I saw that it was a good way to earn money while I was studying.
It’s a familiar story, up to a point.
While Laura, 23, has worked on fashion campaigns, advertising and fashion shows for brands such as Schwarzkopf and L’Oreal, the pair actually met through the enigmatic sphere of stock photography, fronted by toothy grins, amplified anger and embellished expressions.
Likewise, Mario had modelled elsewhere.
But then, Laura and Mario found themselves booked to do a shoot with the stock image photographer, Antonio Guillem, whose photographs are among the most viewed images in the world today.
Guillem has sold more than 1,000,000 licenses – more than 1,600 every day.
Mario, who was a stock photo novice, was surprised to find the profession ‘fun and interesting’, chimed in:
I did not know much about stock photography at the time but after a few sessions I decided if they wanted me in the team I was glad to stay.
The trio have worked together from the beginning of Guillem’s stock photo empire, and proven themselves to be a great team, developing an exclusive professional bond and thousands of photographs taken during countless photoshoots over the years.
Since, Guillem has sold about 110 licenses a day of photos featuring Laura, who also now works for the company behind the lens in administration and licensing.
While stock photo models in America can expect to earn a flat fee of between $75 and $200 for a job which takes a few hours work, Laura explained her base salary depends on the money her photos generate.
Models also get incentives if they exceed expectations.
You can see how it would all add up:
Isn’t she from that jealous girlfriend meme? pic.twitter.com/7oCCuVZOH2
— max (@uqIyboy) September 8, 2018
Mario confirmed stock photo modelling can be ‘very lucrative’ if you throw yourself into shoots and find a photographer like Guillem who prefers to work with the same models consistently.
He tells UNILAD he’s working on a few different projects, but the trio, who have been together for half a decade, are looking to reunite soon.
Laura praised their professional relationship, saying:
All the models who work with Antonio form a great team. We understand each other. But it’s fair to say Mario and I have been here from the beginning and we are the ones who have helped Antonio build this business from scratch.
The most important thing that brought us where we are today is family. Antonio has surrounded himself with a group of people who really care about each other and that gives us the boost to do amazing things.
The three of us are looking forward to working together again.
Laura alludes to ‘difficult moments’ being compensated by ‘good times’ on and off set but both Laura and Mario are notably tight-lipped about their personal lives.
Presumably it pays to be nondescript when, in your day job, you are a model who is required to blend into everyday surroundings.
They stay anonymous successfully, hiding in plain sight across the world:
IS TRANSPORT SYDNEY USING ATOCK PHOTOS OF THE JEALOUS GIRLFRIEND MEME WOMAN pic.twitter.com/tZM1CgqvbK
— AM4:44 ☁️ (@YongguksPelvis) September 12, 2018
Despite the global reach of Guillem’s work, Laura says she is never recognised.
It’s an experience shared by Mario who says his friends very occasionally ‘freak out’ when they spot a photograph of him used in a niche advertisement somewhere unexpected, but he tends not to tell people what he does for a living.
Laura says she is barely recognised professionally, recounting this anecdote for UNILAD:
I did a model job for a pharmaceutical company and, speaking with the photographer about my work, I showed him the portfolio of Antonio Guillem.
When he saw my photos he realised he had bought my photos on more than one occasion but had not recognised me in real life!
What is weird is to enter a store where they have a poster of you and, when you tell the worker, he is surprised!
And yet, it’s not surprising.
Even Laura herself says she has ‘not seen a thousandth of the photos’ in which she features shared across the globe in advertisements, from soap to supplements, selling the shiny capitalist dream.
So they stay anonymous in their day-to-day lives; smiling or shouting or acting silly in the background of the ads which bombard us everyday.
Mario has even been amused to find his image emblazoned across the front cover of a magazine posted into his own mailbox once or twice.
If you wanna know the story behind this photo check this out! https://t.co/UCNxIe3uyW
— Antonio Guillem (@AntonioGuillem) August 30, 2017
Luckily, stock image agencies have strict policies on the misuse of images and it is very rare Laura and Mario find themselves appearing on inappropriate sites or in ‘undesirable content’.
However, like it or not, Mario and Laura find themselves among the army of retired memes whose stories are across the World Wide Web.
Except, their fabricated photo series – a direct result of their day jobs – has been turned into an online novella.
A picture is worth a thousand words, after all.
But this ‘LoneWolf’ captioned the lot:
The jealous girlfriend/unfaithful guy meme has an entire story. THREAD. pic.twitter.com/UBZHLYrXlh
— LoneWolf. (@ABuharisama) June 27, 2018
He’s not alone in becoming fanatical about their now-famous faces. The photograph became a phenomenon.
It all started when Guillem posted the photograph, captioned ‘Disloyal man with his girlfriend looking at another girl’, on the stock photo database iStock on November 2 way back in 2015.
It was a typical shoot capturing the concept of ‘couple problems’ which Guillem writes about in a post on his blog regarding ‘Taking New Risks‘.
It’s not all without hard work though, Mario reassures UNILAD:
We get up early in the morning and work all day till we reach our goal, sometimes it can get pretty stressful but we always try to keep the fun jokes going to keep the mood up and I think that having fun really helps you to do your job better.
Saying every shoot is different, Laura states you need ‘patience, interest and communication’, but stock photo modelling is pretty much open to everyone.
From her own experience of shoots, which can last upward of 16 hours, Laura adds:
In our case you could say that professionalism, predisposition, a certain aesthetic, willingness and even ability to sacrifice, as you have to maintain the attitude throughout the session and sometimes it can be hard.
Other times we have to deal with frustration since a photoshoot can be twisted at any time due to bad weather or for any other reason and we have to rewrite it entirely.
You cannot be ashamed either, since sometimes it is necessary to put on funny expressions in the middle of a busy street while there are five tourists taking photos, or young people shouting things and you have to continue doing your job as if nothing has happened.
But, Guillem recalled how this particular shoot was a little unusual:
While we were doing it, Mario was quite embarrassed and could not bring the face of desire, while youngsters who looked [on] attentively did not understand how he seemed immune to the charms of the model [in] red.
It was a very fun time. Finally, after numerous attempts and many more laughs, we got the image.
Two years passed and the trio thought nothing special of the series.
Until, January 30th, 2017, when a Prog Rock meme Facebook page posted this:
Niche, but all memes have to start somewhere – why not Phil Collins?
Over the coming year, the ‘Distracted Boyfriend/Jealous Girlfriend’ meme snowballed faster than you can say ‘image copyright’.
Many have called it the most popular meme on Twitter so far in 2018:
Ranking of the best memes on twitter:
1. Boy checking out girl over his shoulder with jealous girlfriend
— Jackson Eliasek (@jackson24e) June 28, 2018
Quickly Laura became 2018’s answer to Overly Attached Girlfriend and Mario was hailed and demonised equally in the name of comedy.
Reincarnations were appearing everywhere, being applied to everything, in what was a pretty tumultuous year for world events.
Remember the one with The Youth eyeing up Socialism and ignoring Capitalism?
It was posted to Twitter in August 2017, just a few months after Jeremy Corbyn won more seats than expected in Theresa May’s misguided General Election and President Donald Trump called some of the Neo-Nazis at Charlottesville ‘good people’.
The so-called Distracted Boyfriend meme became a masterpiece of the Object Labelling trend in meme history.
A personal favourite was the one with the Solar Eclipse; a delightful reaction to the 45th President staring straight into the Sun with all the bravado of an adulterous man with a wandering eye – an obvious reference to the stock photo rather than Trump’s personal life, in case you were wondering…
Laura and Mario were already used to being everywhere, but not like this.
Their faces were placed at the forefront of the social media battlefield, repeated again and again, retweeted, shared and liked for being used to debate everything from gender politics to gaming cheats.
Really, the work of a stock image model – relatable to all as they are required to be – is perfect fodder for the Internet’s every whim.
When asked whether he sees himself as having a generic face, Mario said:
Well, I think that in this kind of photography people who see the picture need to feel like they are you. So even if your face is not really generic you need to have something that can be related to everyone.
As fake as Stock photography might seem, it’s one of the most realistic types of photography it’s the reenactment of everyday life.
Laura adds more generic looks and ‘characteristic physical traits’ can sometimes be profitable in advertising due to an increased selling capacity, but adds all kinds of profiles can be needed depending on the job.
Well, out of all the stock models in all of the world pulling all of the faces and posing all of the scenarios, it seems the Internet Jury picked Guillem and his crack team of two.
But, as you can imagine, the attention wasn’t particularly welcome and both Laura and Mario were reluctant to talk about the photoshoot which set sail a thousand memes.
However, Laura did comment on the legality of the matter, saying:
The fact that people use our photos virally without having paid the licenses, I mean illegally, to create stories, damages our image.
There is a lot of work behind each photo and they have a price, but the internet has become accustomed to stealing them, damaging the authors.
Guillem speaking to Spanish newspaper, El Periódico, echoed Laura’s sentiment:
It does not make me proud, until recently I did not even know what a meme was. I’m not interested, and in truth, it bothers me that they associate me with that phenomenon.
Authorship does not interest me in the least. I am one of the photographers that sells the most photographs in the world and even so, nobody knows.
The creators of stock images have a relevance, but that has no matter anywhere else. I just want to generate content that can be sold thousands of times.
It’s refreshing to hear a photographer be so practical about his work, and two models refuse to monopolise on overnight fame and recognition.
Rather, Mario and Laura are continuing to further their existing careers by manoeuvring around the meme.
Laura is adamant being a meme has changed nothing for her, and Mario concludes:
My work is always changing because we are always trying to get better. The fact that this picture went viral has not changed the way we work.
Yet, talking to the pair, you get the feeling they’ll be avoiding going viral again any time soon, in meme-oriam of the Distracted Boyfriend and Jealous Girlfriend, whom the Internet both created and killed with our insatiable greed for content.
UNILAD contacted Antonio Guillem but he declined to be interviewed.
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A former emo kid who talks too much about 8Chan meme culture, the Kardashian Klan, and how her smartphone is probably killing her. Francesca is a Cardiff University Journalism Masters grad who has done words for BBC, ELLE, The Debrief, DAZED, an art magazine you’ve never heard of and a feminist zine which never went to print.