How would you feel if one day you woke up to see our face on some random advertisement? Sounds a little strange, even amusing. Well, something similar happened to Shubnam Khan when one day her friend found out an advertisement using her face. On further search, Shubnam found out that her photo was being used by several portals, without her consent. She narrated the incident on Twitter:
So today I'm going to tell you the story of How I Ended Up with my Face On a McDonald's Advert in China – A Cautionary Tale. Six or so years ago, a friend in Canada posted a pic on my FB wall to say she found an advert of me promoting immigration in a Canadian newspaper. pic.twitter.com/QJ0nWpYNmQ
— Shubnum Khan (@ShubnumKhan) July 28, 2018
So today I’m going to tell you the story of “How I Ended Up with my Face On a McDonald’s Advert in China – A Cautionary Tale”. Six or so years ago, a friend in Canada posted a picture on my FB wall to say she found an advert of me promoting immigration in a Canadian newspaper.
Naturally, I was shocked and…confused. I studied the picture and agreed that it was me. Now I didn’t mind that I was promoting immigration in Canada but I couldn’t understand why my face was in a paper all the way on that side of the world.
After some moments of confusion, a friend reminded me of the time when we did a photo shoot a few years ago. When I was at university, I heard about a free photoshoot by a CT photographer who promised us professional portraits in exchange for shooting us. It was called the 100 Faces Shoot and the photographer took photos of 100 various faces of all ages and races in Durban. Young friends and I were excited; we signed a release form at the start (I thought it was to give him permission to use the photos for his portfolio). We didn’t read the small print. I know. It was stupid.
So, I contact the photographer and he says, yeah, we signed away these photos (we took three photos – straight-faced, smiling and crazy) and they’re now stock photos that he sells. He says I might start popping up in places. So I start a reverse google search of these images and well, it feels like I sell everything! If I’m not welcoming immigrants to Canada, I’m selling carpets in NYC, leading treks in Cambodia, or looking for love in France.
Let’s start with something light: here I’m the face for dental sedation in Virginia Beach. Innocent enough, you say.
but then I get into the hard stuff and I’m all about getting rid of those pesky eye bags. Haloxyl is the stuff to inhibit facial muscle tightening and is the buzzword (obviously) in anti-ageing eye cream
And then suddenly all this facial work has you getting attention and you’re Dina M, with a baby and post pregnancy melasma until Dermolyte comes to the rescue and gives you photoshopped finished skin.
But also, some hyper-pigmentation just doesn’t leave and then you must resign yourself to your fate with a sad glare,
but once that’s all treated you can grace some book and magazine covers.
I can also take on new identities. The most shocking of these are advertisements to teach and care for kids – so who is actually with the kids? When I asked the photographer about this, he says I signed away rights to ‘distortion of character including false names’.
Also, I love my ethnicity varies according to whim. I’m Seng Bonny leading Cambodian tours, Phoebe Lopez from San Francisco, Kelsi from San Francisco, Chandra from California, Christine from LaTrobe Uni, Dina M etc.
I’ve also looked for love online on a French dating website. This roughly translates to: ‘I’m here, do not click too hard I’m fragile. Here I am looking prince charming of my dreams, who comes on his white horse to steal my heart…’
Again, the face of positive immigration in Uruguay. (To be honest, I don’t really mind the ads promoting immigration).
And the list goes on; numerous testimonials for different products, someone spotted a poster at a bustop in London, posters for McDonald’s in India, China and South Korea, banking brochures, eye clinics, make up websites, laser eye treatments etc.
So beside the fact that all of us were never paid for any of these advertisements, there’s also the misleading and downright dishonesty of promoting these products. Eventually, I contacted the photographer and said I didn’t know I signed up for any of this. He explained that he was sorry I felt hard done by but it was all legal and explained to us beforehand (I really don’t remember anyone telling me my picture would become a stockphoto and that it could be distorted), but he agreed to take it down from his site since I complained as an author, I could be recognised (I don’t think this was a legit excuse but it worked in making him take it down). He also said I could still keep popping up where my image was already purchased.
The thing is I’ve laughed over the years about this and it’s a great party story and I do find some of the images hilarious and I still laugh when people find me randomly advertising for teeth implants while browsing a paper in New York, but now that I’m older, more assertive and aware of power plays and manipulation. I can easily see how we were all used – a whole gallery of free photographs for this photographer to sell and we haven’t made a cent for all the things we have advertised!
Also this could have gone badly – my photo could have come up in a wrong place (I mean, the right to ‘distort photo and character!’) is scary and so if anything, I hope my story is also a cautionary tale to be careful what you sign because while it’s occasionally funny to randomly come across your face on a board at the McDonalds in China, you also don’t want to be Dina M, complaining about post-pregnancy melasma to the internet or calling out for prince charming on a white horse (ok, that bit is okay). It’s also pretty telling of how easily you can be exploited in this new age & how startlingly deceptive everything is. Those testimonials are fake, those adverts are fake. Your holiday tour guide, your tutor or your future bride could just be some random university student living her life in a small town in South Africa not knowing about how her image is being used. So, if anything use my story as a cautionary tale. Don’t sign up for free photoshoots, read what you sign and also don’t believe most of the things you read on the internet.
Be clever. Be aware. Don’t get caught up. I’m sure I could have made some money out of this, but instead, I’m out there promoting acne cream while someone else gets the profits.
And now you know.
There are more pics – some I forgot to save, some I’ve heard of and of course, those that I don’t even know about. Their appearances have certainly been lessening after the photographer told me he took them down so that’s been welcome.