The Photograph That Became an Unintentional Cultural Icon

Noam Galai took a few photos of himself in 2006 and uploaded them to his Flickr. A few people liked those photos, but he didn't think of it. Over time, he began to see his photos popping up all over magazines, the internet and as street art. Then it began appearing on commodities (clothes, books, etc.). Now, it's being used as a symbol of protest in Iran. The crazy part is that nobody asked his permission.


Fstoppers are responsible for this great video narrative, titled The Stolen Scream, which details Galai's story, and the process of watching himself become an anonymous global icon with no control over how his image is used (in one case, the photo was attributed to someone else entirely). He even mentions that when he tried to register the photo with sites like Getty Images, they told him the image would never sell.

All in all though, it's a great story about the dissemination of digital media over the Internet and the inevitable conflict between those who create it and those who use it, which is highlighted by this quote from Galai:

"I'm pretty sure if I took this picture 20 years ago, the only place it would be is in my room. I don't think anyone would know about this picture."


Galai says that National Geographic are the only organization who actually licensed the photo. He estimates the photo has been used in 30 or 40 different countries. [Fstoppers via PetaPixel]

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Wow. I recently had one of my shots lifted from Flickr, which was used in an advertisement campaign in Japan. The designer got it off a website purporting to have stocks of "license free" photos––in fact all they were doing was linking to Flickr shots that were under CC licensing. For some reason, they linked to my shot, which was CC:attribution/share alike/non-commercial license, which they shouldn't have because of the last limitation. Any way, long story short, I started making noise on Twitter, the designer caught whiff of it, and voluntarily went around and removed the shot from all the flyers, websites, etc. etc.

What this guy went through is several dimensions above my experience. Unbelievable. Hopefully this video will give him a bit more recognition that he so deserves.