Behind the Camera: Hidden Truths of Online Photos
The Internet is a wonderful and terrible place. A place where anything can be found and where mysteries are both solved and created. In particular, Google Image Search can be an addicting but frightening passage into an online expedition. And there are those pictures—those pictures that seem to pop up on multiple searches, and in many locations on the Internet and you never really know what they are or where they come from.
Here’s a sampling of a few of these weird photos.
The Giant Crustacean
This first entry is an example of a picture that is completely authentic, but becomes a mystery when taken out of context. The Giant Crustacean looks like just that: a monstrous lobster or related crustacean. Some kind of Lovecraftian monster of the deep that if you’re lucky, you will never see in person. This image has been taken from its original context and used on the Internet in message boards and other fine virtual locations so many times that it is easy to imagine that it really is just a picture of some horrifically enlarged lobster or rare prehistoric sea creature.
However, tracing it through the tangled web of a Web, reveals that it is a photo of Jez Gibson-Harris of Crawley Creatures, a company that makes animatronic creatures for film and television. Mr. Gibson-Harris is holding a model of an ancient sea scorpion called a eurypterid, made for the BBC show Sea Monsters. So while it does happen to be a prehistoric sea creature, it is not alive, not real, and not coming for you in the dead of night. (Source: Crawley Creatures. Read about the model here.)
The Duck Thief
This second entry exemplifies a picture taken out of context and circulated with a fake story that morphs into a widespread hoax. It’s highly doubtful anyone ever believed this story, but this picture circulated with an attached e-mail claiming that AFLAC was using its trained ducks to scam women by flaunting their tiny cute little ducklings to distract them while the mama duck sneakily lifted their cash. In other words, someone would have us believe that AFLAC, in order to fund its cancer coverage, has become a modern day Fagin who uses ducks instead of orphans. Because … petty thievery is certainly going to cover a chemotherapy bill. Or pay Gilbert Godfried’s voiceover rates.
The true story is that this photo was taken by Donncha O. Caoimh, and comes from
her his In Photos site. She He took the picture in Chicago. It is, sadly, not a real duck mastermind, but is from a shoot for a Western Union advertisement. [Thank you, Mr. Caoimh, for the correction]
The third type of picture is the Internet meme—a photo that strikes some universal place in us and becomes popular just by virtue of being itself. Happy Cat is a pretty ubiquitous sight on the Internet these days. We all know by now that despite his happy smile, this cat is constantly craving a cheeseburger and only has limited spelling and grammar skills with which to express his thoughts.
Well, Happy Cat actually has an origin tale—let me tell u it. Back in 2003, Happy Cat was the mascot for a Russian cat food company, called Happy Cat. A member of the Something Awful message board, stumbled upon this cat and decided to make it a star, which is exactly what happened. The cat immediately began appearing in Photoshops everywhere, and someone even paid to give Happy Cat its own ad in the L.A. Times. The stalwart kitty then made its way through the Internet, from Something Awful, to YTMND, to 4chan’s Caturday thread. From there, some genius slapped the phrase “I CAN HAZ CHEEZBURGER” on this picture and a new evil was born. Now people everywhere while away the hours looking at cats on the Internet saying cute things with poor English skills.
(Source: Encyclopedia Dramatica/Wikipedia/YTMND)
(Check out The Happy cat Web Site circa 2003)
Finally, we have the cousin of the second type of photo – the hoax photo. This is a manipulated photo that is circulated with a false story. The monster cat photo started innocently enough. Cordell Hauglie was learning how to use image manipulation software, and he transformed a picture of himself and his daughter’s cat, Jumper into a picture of himself weighed down by a monstrous house cat. He sent it around to a couple of friends as a joke and forgot about it.
But this is the Internet, and it wasn’t long before the photo popped up somewhere on a Web site, with no explanation attached. From there, someone took it and added a fake story about a man who found an abandoned cat near a nuclear lab, who gave birth to the monster kitten, “Snowball,” portrayed in the picture. Hauglie is now famous in the cat world and regularly is asked to attend conventions now.
The moral of the story is: (1) don’t believe what you see on the Internet; and (2) if you see something you think is amazing, weird, or notably odd, others may just think so too. Be sure to exploit it for all its worth and you may just become e-famous!