Thinking Images v.12: Fake bad girls

March 6, 2011 · by David Campbell · photography, Thinking Images

The Daily Mail is regarded as the paper of ‘middle England’. It covers prominently the social dangers perceived to threaten that nebulous identity. This Saturday it ran a feature headlined “Bad Girls,” driven by statistics on female criminality in Britain:

While criminal offences by young men have fallen, those committed by girls aged 10 to 17 have increased by 25 per cent over the past three years. Worse still, their violent offences have gone up by a staggering 50 per cent. According to the latest government statistics, one in four violent attacks now involves a female. This means that, in 2008, more than half a million assaults were either carried out by women or involved a female in a gang. In the same year, there were nearly 300 attacks a week carried out by girls under 18. Yet society remains preoccupied by male crime, and it’s still  struggling to catch up with these new kids on the block.

Illustrating the story, both in the paper and online, was this portrait of two knife-wielding girls:

BK7D3G Thinking Images v.12: Fake bad girls

Photo: 67photo/Alamy, licensed for use.

The credit for the photograph in the newspaper was “Alamy (Posed by models)”. The paper has used a set-up stock photograph to visually reference this social issue. Searching on Alamy I found that this is image BK7D3G taken by “67photo” somewhere in the UK in April 2010. It is one of a series of fourteen, amongst which is an extraordinary image with the caption “Teenage girl with baby abusing alcohol” (BK7B05):

BK7B05 Thinking Images v.12: Fake bad girls

Photo: 67photo/Alamy, licensed for use.

Many years ago I was at a World Press Photo seminar where Stephen Mayes presented an overview of industry trends, one of which was the use of constructed photo illustrations to support news stories. This example shows the trend is alive and well.

We also have to reflect on the role of the stock photographer here. On the one hand you have to recognise the enterprise of “67photo” divining British cultural anxieties and producing a portfolio of images ripe for a paper like the Mail to buy. On the other hand, you have to deplore the cynicism involved in doing that (though he/she is not alone in making such pictures). Above all else, I deplore the newspaper’s lack of authenticity in using staged stock photos to support an article on social issues.

10 Responses to “Thinking Images v.12: Fake bad girls”

  1. Speechless. Which I probably shouldn’t be, but…

  2. I didn’t even know stock photos like these exist before. It’s pretty irresponsible to accompany an investigative journalism piece with re-enactments like these, even for Daily Mail. It’s lazy and destroying the credibility of the story. But the Daily Mail hate the working class, women and immigrants anyway, so I am not so surprised.

  3. They are famous for pandering to knee-jerking reactionaries and not letting the good or even responsible journalism get in the way of a good story. They have been lowering the bar with incredulity for so long perhaps this really is the way only way forward for them. It’s difficult to not see who isn’t insulted by this practise?

  4. I looked through the comments to the original article, pretty drepressing reading. It seemed like many of the views were as shallow and cynical as the photographs themselves, so really they were well matched. Does this mean we only get the pictures we deserve?

  5. “Female immigrant violence causes cancer” would be the essence of a perfect Mail headline. Illustrated with a photo posed by models of course.

  6. Setting up, stunting up, contriving images has unfortunatly been grist to the mill since the beginning of photographic time to reinforce someones predjudice or pre conceived notion of their version of a truth, normally a newspaper.
    I witnessed it happening in Northern Ireland, it happened in National Geographic during the famine in Sudan-Ethiopia, I believe it happened in the wars in central America in the 1980’s, it certainly happened during the American civil wars….it happens EVERY day in one way or another in our ( British ) national press…….the difference here is that the photographer has highlighted that these are SET UP CONTIVED images for illustration purposes only, which at least is honest.
    Stand up any photographer who hasn’t ‘set up’ a picture to improve the message.
    Brian Harris

    • Yes, the photographer has been quite open about the fact these images were set up with models. The problem comes in the newspaper’s use of them to support its report. What should have been a document is a contrivance by the Mail. No photojournalist reporting that story could have produced images that way.

  7. This is certainly a worrying trend – here is another example from todays Sun – http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/3465099/Alcoholic-aged-three.html

  8. Elspeth Van Veeren June 13, 2011 at 8:52 am

    David,

    I’ve only recently been made aware of your blog, so my apologies if this comment is a bit belated. With regard to this post/blog, would you make a distinction between this type of staging and reproduction and the work that Edmund Clark and other photographers have done (as you have described elsewhere) when it comes to Guantanamo and some (some) of the photos that have been taken there and then reproduced, for example? Is there a critical difference?

    Many thanks for your very insightful, informative, and inspiring postings!

    Elspeth

    • Thanks for reading Elspeth. I don’t see any parallel between the topics of this post and the work of Ed Clark. Here someone is using models and overtly constructing a scene to embody a cultural concept. That is why I called it fake. While all photography constructs, interprets and performs – and is therefore staging something – Ed is not using models and is not constructing a scene as here. So, yes, there are significant and critical differences.

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