The Story Behind That Viral ‘Distracted Boyfriend’ Meme Photo

One of the hottest memes this year is the “Distracted Boyfriend,” also known as “Man Looking at Other Woman.” It shows a man looking backward, checking out another woman while his partner gives him a disapproving look.

The photo emerged in memes earlier in 2017 before going extremely viral and peaking in August. If you spend a lot of time on the Internet, there’s a good chance you’ve seen this meme in one form or another. Here’s one example of the meme geared towards photographers:

A look at the Google Trends chart shows how the meme absolutely blew up in late August 2017:

As the craze is dying down a bit, we caught up with photographer Antonio Guillem, the man behind the original stock photo, titled “Disloyal man walking with his girlfriend and looking amazed at another seductive girl,” to learn more about the shot and the story behind it.

Guillem is a 45-year-old professional advertising photographer based in Barcelona, Spain. For the past 5 years, he has been working 16-hour days, primarily shooting images for microstock agencies.

“We are one of the top sellers microstock photographers in the world,” Guillem says. “3 years and a half after we started, we were selling 1,600 photos a day.”

Guillem says his best-selling photos are currently being purchased over 6,000 times every year, and this meme photo doesn’t rank among his most popular work — it sells about 700 times a year.

Here’s another stock photo with the same couple and the same theme. It’s titled “Girlfriend discovering that her boyfriend is cheating with her best friend at home“:

The photographer was surprised by how his photo became a viral sensation — he didn’t know about it (and didn’t even know what a meme was) before his models saw the meme on social media and brought it to his attention.

“I never thought that one of my images would be this popular,” Guillem says in an email to PetaPixel. “As you can imagine, we can’t worry about each one of the particular uses that have been given to our photos, as we focus on creating content that can be sold thousands of times, even though the meme situation can be surprising.”

Here’s Guillem ‘s story of how this particular photo came about:

We work exclusively on advertisement photography for microstock agencies as I explained before, so the origin of this picture was purely for work reasons. The session took place in mid-2015 in Gerona (Catalonia, Spain) and because we were having a great sales response to our work, we decided to take a few risks planning a session representing the infidelity concept in relationships in a playful and fun way.

The setting was completely improvised as we didn’t have time to search for it. As I always work with the same models, it was quite easy to create the situation even though it was quite challenging to achieve face expressions that were believable. 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.

Guillem says he creates concepts for his stock photos based on looking at numbers to figure out what sells. This strategy has allowed him to build a massive library of stock photos that all sell, giving him more flexibility in taking risks and attempting new concepts.

A look at Guillem’s portfolio on Shutterstock.

Regarding the copyright issues surrounding the use of his photo, Guillem says his position is clear. Although copyright infringement of his photo is rampant, he won’t be taking legal action except in cases of “bad faith”:

All our images are subject to copyright laws and the license agreements of the microstock agencies.

It’s not allowed to use any image without purchasing the proper license in any possible way, so each one of the people that use the images without the license are doing it illegally.

This is not the thing that really worries us, as they are just a group of people doing it in good faith, and we are not going to take any action, except for the extreme cases in which this good faith doesn’t exist.

What really worries us and we are not going to allow it, taking the appropriate legal measures, is the use of the images in a pejorative, offensive or any way that can harm the models or me.

You can find more of Guillem’s photos on his website and license them through Shutterstock and Fotolia.

Image credits: Photographs by Antonio Guillem and licensed through Shutterstock