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The True Story Behind The Distracted Boyfriend Meme

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The True Story Behind The Distracted Boyfriend Meme

Never mind asking if you've seen the distracted boyfriend meme, we'd be surprised if any of you hadn't used it at least once, such has been its ubiquity.

Like it or loathe it, the unavoidable image of a man walking down a city street with his girlfriend, head turned away from her and gawping at a woman walking the other direction, has become one of the 21st century's most ubiquitous pictures. A bit like those posters of Che Guevara or those workers sat on a suspended beam eating their lunches in the 20th century.

It's the 'distracted boyfriend' stock photo, and it's been used thousands upon thousands of times now, for great - and not so great - meme content.

Credit: Shutterstock
Credit: Shutterstock
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Spanish photographer Antonio Guillem is the man behind the photo, and he's as stunned as anyone by its success. Guillem has made his living shooting the kind of stock photos used by companies the world over, and most of his work featured the three models that appear in his most famous work.

Typically, Guillem would shoot the trio in a range of various but generally placid and contented scenes. In 2015, though, with business going well, he opted to rip up his own rule book, toying with the idea of unfaithfulness within a relationship.

"We decided to take a few risks, planning a session representing the infidelity concept in relationships in a playful and fun way," he told Wired back in 2017.

He and his models subsequently headed to Gerona in Catalonia, Spain and found a spot on the street where he started shooting from.

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The story evolved in Antonio's other photos. Credit: Shutterstock
The story evolved in Antonio's other photos. Credit: Shutterstock

"It was quite challenging to achieve face expressions that were believable," said Guillem.

"Mainly because we always have a really great work atmosphere, and almost all the time one of the models was laughing while we were trying to take the picture."

Dozens of shots came out of the session - including several pretty weird ones that continued the theme of infidelity - but ultimately it was 'disloyal man walking with his girlfriend and looking amazed at another seductive girl' that became a meme sensation.

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Guillem doesn't even really know what a meme is.

"I never thought that one of my images will be that popular," he said.

"I didn't even know what a meme is until recently, when the models started to tell me about the memes that people were doing with our work."

Credit: Shutterstock
Credit: Shutterstock
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The first recorded use of the image being edited for a meme was in late January 2017, when a poster in a Turkish prog rock Facebook fan group labelled the perving man Phil Collins, his girlfriend Prog and the woman walking by Pop.

It was an inauspicious start, but by mid-2017 the image was everywhere.

So surely you'd think Guillem would be coining it? Not necessarily. He told Wired in 2017 that the image had been sold around 700 times. For context, his best selling photo had been sold 13,000 times.

"Memes haven't given us any kind of economic profit, because most of the images haven't been sold on the microstock agencies," said Guillem.

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"They are being used without the proper license on those agencies."

However, Guillem has never pursued any legal action around unlicensed use of his image and seems happy to see it become such a success.

Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock

Topics: Viral, Interesting

Simon Catling
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