I have always found stock photography hilarious. These perfect, smiling models eating salad, clapping hands and pointing at flip charts in conference rooms. But then, after 20 pages of research, I noticed an image of a man sitting in front of a Christmas tree with a gun pressed to his forehead, cradling a bottle of whiskey.
A shocking and dark image, meant to illustrate the very real and very serious problem of Seasonal Affective Disorder. But presented so bluntly, in such a literal and nonsensical way that it accidentally got funny. And that was the seed of what would eventually become the Twitter account Dark Stock Photoswhere I harvest the likes of iStock and Getty for the saddest, darkest images I can find.
There’s so much to love, like Crying boy on the coast, where a five-year-old boy holds his head in his hand, distraught, with a gun in the other. Or grieving womanin which a woman kneeling by the coffin of a dead man smiles mischievously at the camera.
In Danger on the road caused by a drunk driver a man hands you, his passenger, an open bottle of beer as he drives horizontally down a busy highway. And Fat man playing naughty santa claus depicts a topless, unshaven man wearing a Santa hat and tweaking his nipples.
So many questions. Why do these photos exist? Who buys them? And to illustrate what? A few may have been slipped by a photographer as a joke, but I feel like most of them were taken seriously. The more I think about it, the funnier they get, and judging by the nearly 80,000 people following the account — which I only started on June 2 — people seem to agree.
The reaction was both amusement and bewilderment, with some people even wondering if I created them myself. But every photo is real and available for purchase, if you ever need a picture of a girl taking a happy selfie with an AK-47.
I have to pay attention. Many of the photos I find are just plain depressing, and I’ve noticed a disproportionate number of images depicting violence against women on these websites. So I handpick @darkstockphotos carefully, making sure the examples I post are either funny or so absurd you can’t take them seriously. And thanks to the strange artifice of archival photography, I’m never short of material.