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Trending: Disturbing and Dark Stock Photos

By David Schonauer   Monday August 21, 2017


Stock photography can be weird.

But a woman stabbing her date with a butter knife as he asks for the check at a restaurant? That’s disturbing. The photo of said homicide is one of a number of strange images featured at Dark Stock Photos, a Twitter account created by journalist Andy Kelly that has been getting a deserved amount of attention in recent days.

Hyperallergic, for instance, calls Dark Stock Photos “brilliant.”

“Through it, Kelly has composed a litany of outrageous, absurd, sad, and confounding photos — like a bird’s-eye view of a man slamming his fist on a table amid the word “DEATH” spelled out in wooden letters, or a picture of a naked guy in a Santa hat pinching his own nipples,” notes Jillian Steinhauer.

“The images certainly are striking,” adds Mashable. “For a moment we wondered if they were the real deal.” Answer: Yes, they are real stock images.

“The reaction has been equal parts amusement and bewilderment, with some people even questioning whether I set these up myself. But every photo is real and available to buy, should you ever need an image of a girl taking a cheery selfie with an AK-47,” noted Kelly himself at The Guardian.

Meanwhile, BuzzFeed  noted that while weird stock photos have been popular on Reddit and Tumblr for years, they've had a recent resurgence on a larger scale through Dark Stock Photos, which now has more than 140,000 followers on Twitter.

"There's no real art to it,” Kelly tells Mashable. “I just search stock photo websites (mainly Shutterstock, iStock, and Depositphotos) using the worst keywords possible. Death, gun, drugs, crash, despair, pain, suffering. The darker the search, the funnier the images generally."

Kelly’s journey into the darker corners of the stock photo trade pretty much began as an accident. “I have always found stock photography hilarious,” he wrote in an essay at The Guardian. “Those perfect, smiling models eating salad, high-fiving each other, and pointing at flipcharts in boardrooms. But then, 20 pages deep into a search, I noticed an image of a man sitting in front of a Christmas tree with a gun pressed against his forehead, cradling a bottle of whisky.”

“I do have to be careful,” Kelly notes. “A lot of the photos I find are just depressing, and I’ve noticed a disproportionate number of images depicting violence against women on these websites.”

In his essay at The Guardian, Kelly asks the big question: Why do these photos exist?

“Who is buying them? And to illustrate what?" he writes. "A few may have been slipped in by a photographer as a joke, but I get the sense that most of them were taken in earnest."


Looking for answers, BuzzFeed reached out and talked to some of the photographers behind the dark stock images, including Russian photographer Sergey Komisar, whose photos  of his three-year-old son Roman holding a toy handgun and weeping have been an unexpected hit. "It was a sweet moment, and one I didn’t want to miss. So I asked him to pose as he was," Komisar says.

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