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Revealed: the “distracted” boyfriend in viral meme is from Spain

“Until recently, I didn’t even know what a meme was,” says photographer Antonio Guillem

On the internet, a picture is worth a thousand memes.
On the internet, a picture is worth a thousand memes. Getty Images

A young woman walks down the street as a couple pass by in the opposite direction. The boyfriend then turns round to look at the young woman’s bottom and his girlfriend catches him. Their faces could not be more expressive.

Over the last few days, the photo has gone viral. The joke is almost always the same: the boyfriend represents us, the woman walking by represents our mistakes, and the girlfriend represents the good decisions we don’t make. It’s also a metaphor for our desire for something new. The KnowYourMeme encyclopedia is not clear about when this meme was first used, but it says that the some of the earliest versions of the joke were first found in late January on a Turkish Facebook page. Now, the joke has gone global.

The photograph was taken in 2015 in the Spanish city of Girona by Antonio Guillem, according to an email to the Verne section of EL PAÍS from the stock-photo photographer. “I took the photo for work. I think the photo itself was a good basis for someone who had the brilliant idea of turning it into a metaphor that applies to everything,” he says. “And that’s no merit of mine.”

Guillem tells us he’s received so many interview requests from media that he’s been overwhelmed and ended up emailing the same message to everyone. Most requests are from the English-speaking world, but there are also jokes in Spanish.

“During this session, I decided to take a chance on the idea of a casual way of representing the concept of infidelity in relationships,” he says of the original photo shoot. “The scenarios were improvised because we did not have much time. As I always work with the same models, it was relatively easy to compose the image,” he says, explaining that the professional names of the models are Laura and Mario.

The young man looking at the other woman, or the distracted boyfriend, (names given to the meme) has been working with Guillem for four years, and Laura for three. They appear in most of his photos, which can be found on iStock or Shutterstock. Before becoming a meme, the image had been downloaded 1,500 times, other photos are downloaded up to 13,000 times.

“It was hard enough to get some believable expressions because due to our good work environment, the situation generated many funny moments and at least one of the models was always laughing,” he adds. In that same session, Guillem took some other photos for the same concept.

Some people have found these other photos and have used them to develop a story for the meme.

“I never thought this photo would be so popular. Until recently, I didn’t even know what a meme was,” he says. At this point, many people may think that this image is generating great benefits for its creator, but this is not the case. “For now, the memes have not made us any money, since most or all of them have not been taken from a legitimate photo bank.”

Guillem points out that using an unlicensed image is illegal: “that’s not what worries me the most, since it seems that most people are using the photo ifor fun. But he adds, “what is worrisome and what we will not permit, is the use of the image where it could harm any of the models or myself.”

English version by Debora Almeida

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