What people want.

I took this shot of my good friend, Noah, three years ago. In 35 months, over 5 different sites including Flickr and Getty Images, it’s had nearly 1.2 million views, received 598 comments (good and bad) and 585 likes on Flickr. It also sells like hot cakes.

One thing is obvious – it’s not the kind of image I take now, but it’s what people want!

Rubber Band Face (copyright Phil Kneen)

*** UPDATE ***

A lot of people have asked what Noah looks like without the rubber bands – well here he is!

200 comments

  1. I can’t bear to click the like button on this one. But, it is a fascinating image, made all the more so for Noah’s stubble. Terrific exposure, as usual.
    I hope you bought him a pint or two of Old Peculiar as a reward for this modelling assignment.

  2. this is a disturbing image. It makes difficult emotions to deal with rise within me. Which is exactly why I like it. I could see this hung up on a wall in my home. Thanks for sharing

  3. I decided not to comment originally, then I came back. A powerful, brave and unsettling image. A reminder of the power of the camera, the lens, the photographer and the subject. Bravo.

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  5. Hi Phil, the picture is great (I mean, all of your pictures are great, but this one is something more I think), I tried to reblog your post but actually my blog became a mess, so I just posted and linked to your post, if it bothers you just tell me, I’ll delete the post.

    Thank you and keep those great pictures coming!

  6. declanwhite

    The photo makes the man look like the Hunchback of Our Lady. All those rubber bands bring out the afflicted soul of our face. Maybe some of our savage vulnerability, though that might be too rhetorical to be meaningful to say!

  7. Fascinating image! I enjoyed how it attracts the eye to different features of the face, yet distorts some as well! Most interesting, thanks for your share and congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  8. Ah yes! Just what I so savour about WordPress’s “Freshly Pressed” selections: always aiming at the lowest common denominator of [sub]-human intelligence.
    Sorry, but your grotesquerie of ugly photos is just plain insulting. Are you by any chance a big fan of circus freak sideshows?

    Gaaaaaag!

  9. lauriejlong

    How did Noah fare after the assault a’la rubber bands? LOL. Does anyone recognize him on the street? ;) You definitely tuned in to exactly what humans want, and it is the same thing that causes rubbernecking on the road: people want to see horror, but once they do, they can’t get it out of their heads. I guess it is sort of like twisted porn. Anyhow, Congrats!

  10. I like how you choose yours subjects for your photographs :) They’re not just pretty-beautiful-in-the-eyes-clouds-and-sun photos. Especially this one, it’s really though provoking and really shocking :)

  11. eritrea

    this is profoundly disturbing image that defines art and creativity at its best. I am loving that there is you and your capability to bring feelings and emotions that only passione could demonstrate and execute. You are exeptionally talented whose work and contribution deserves nothing less then respect, recognition, unconditionay support to nurture creativity because you are too important to the human race. I thank you for sharing.

  12. Great reminds me that we used to do that as kids and see who could come up with the most distorted and ugly faces….but also a really beautiful photo, great texture!

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  15. Dear Phil, & (especially)ephem:

    (1) I’m “right-wing”???!! Did you graduate high school yet? My blog – which you claim to have read, though judging by your response to it, I have my doubts – slices and dices Yankee right-wing fascist-end-of-empire-atomic-bully-boy world terrorism to shreds. Totally. Read much?

    (2) Nah, I guess I wouldn’t be “still living with my mom,” seeing as how I’m a retired news reporter, sitting in a $million condo here on the West Coast who just got back from my bi-monthly holiday in the tropics. But I can understand your bitterness. People your age have really got a situation on yer hands, doncha? No future, no prospects, and all attitude. Too bad. I’m betting you live with mommie!

    (3) I follow “Freshly Pressed” every day. It bores me half to death though. WordPress promotes only bland, cute, novel, Little Mary Sunshine “lite & brite” twiddle-twaddle here. As if it would hurt them to promote serious, provocative content now and then.
    Hence, my ribbing of your “success” at being Freshly Pressed, Phil. The ubiquitous: “Congrats on being Freshly Pressed” greeting reminds me of that sickening ritual cult telephone greeting that “Dr.” Laura Schlesinger enforced on her now-defunct radio show: “Hi. My name is Laura, and I’m my babies’ mommie!” BAARF!

    We shouldn’t really be doing this here, in this pretty, pretty place.

  16. It always amazes me how some people have the talent/ to photograph ANYTHING and create a stunning, evocative piece of art. if i took this photo it would look like a dull frat house party prank.

    Nice work.

  17. If I were to name this picture it would be “distortion through the eyes of the world.” It would make a great book cover! It’s makes me think about how our world can take something beautiful and pervert it. Thanks for sharing this intriguing photograph.

  18. Why do we view it? Because the photo IS us. It’s shows us the constraints we subject ourselves to. We can still see and hear and smell and breathe and move literally and figuratively but we willingly allow ourselves to be constrained. We have forgotten what it means to breathe without inhalers, colognes and deoderizers, hear without being told what to listen to, see without being marketed to and taste something natural. What’s great about (rubber band) constraints is they are just flexible enough to give the illusion we can exert free will . Sadly, I and most others put on the rubber band willingly, pay for the privilege and pose proudly for the photo. Maybe there is a comfort is having everything held together because we fear what we are actually capable of. (Going to use the link on your flickr to repost on my blog). GREAT work.

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  20. I really like this photo… It’s beautiful in a way. But for all of it’s fascinating properties – that left eye makes me squirm. It just really looks like the rubber bands are cutting into it! *shudders*

  21. Cool! I’ve seen your Noah photo before. I also know the mixed feelings that go with being known for photos taken a year or so ago. It’s good too though. Our photos may go on forever…… :-)

  22. I must admit I clicked on this blog because the picture is different from any other I have ever seen, but thats not to say that this is what I want to see, Maybe people enjoy seein things that are not outside their front door, and Noah in this form is no where near my door

  23. I agree on it’s something that “people want”. We want something different to ponder and stare upon and to discuss intellectuality it’s profound meaning, but in the end, it is what it is…

  24. It’s a very interesting (in a good way) image. It’s kind of weird that a lot of people buy it though, since they’d have this photo of a random guy hanging on their walls (or whatever they do with it).

  25. Phil, though youve moved on the world apparently still needs a hero. we need to see someone trying to break their bonds. his face is bursting through and the expression makes it a ‘fight’ photo for me. Cheers!

  26. it is a strong image and just makes you wonder, if it was different, if he was different… what makes a photo a cultural icon? …be careful what you wish for? I love the Quasimodo-ness…

  27. Shubra Vimal

    Wow! It’s like Quasimodo in the flesh! Great photograph – who’d have thought plain ol’ rubber bands could transform someone’s face so drastically? (Looks painful, though – esp. his left eye. Ouch!)
    Also – clever way of getting Noah’s face on the internet while still preserving his privacy – everyone has seen him yet no one knows what he really looks like :)

  28. My first thought was …what an…unusual image. I didn’t know what to say so I didn’t comment. I had to come back though, the image has a fascination of its own. It could be subtitled suffering for his art! I can see why people were a bit shocked when you did it with a fourteen year old, but then as you point out he was not only willing but enjoyed it. So that should end the argument I think.

    I like the image its disturbing, compelling and makes the viewer think (at least it made me think), admittedly some of those thoughts should probably stay out of print *s*

  29. My goodness! What a horrific sight! Lovely image though, always had a knack for odd stuff. But the way the string is pressing against his nose, and messing up his lips adds up to the value of the image. Keeper.

  30. My god this image is in depth but i cant blame people for wondering what the hell was wrong with him? You photo takers must be having fun now that you have intsigram around now aren’t you? Either way you have to have a good imagination to pull off an idea for this kind of image and that’s alot of views not for nothing -,o

    http://wp.me/2aAA8

  31. Love hate, mostly hate…but odd curious..a car wreck yes…ya almost have to look even though you shouldn’t but you do anyway…did you think about taking the after photo?

  32. Have you noticed any prevailing pattern as a main reason people want the image? You’re mentioning it’s commercial success, and that it’s no longer your style, but I wonder if it’s possible to see a trend in the reasoning behind why people are drawn to it. As with many comments above, I personally did feel the same curiosity/repulsion, and of course the technical excellence… But perhaps what’s most interesting is that I feel like I want to keep coming back to examine it, reassuring myself that although at first glance it looks ominous and painful, the subject is just posing and completely fine. Much like a kid checking and re-checking under her bed for monsters, just to be reminded that there are none. It seems to me like that difference between the first (discomfort) and second (reassurance) reaction I felt is what makes it that much more interesting (for me, anyway). I wonder if those who bought the image might have had a similar sentiment.

  33. Pingback: What people want… « Live, Laugh, Love

  34. I must say, the picture is the reason I clicked on your site … I wondered what this person had to say to fit this picture. Very interesting that is received so much attention … it is the obscure that people want.

  35. To all the people leaving any bad comments, give me a break….it’s a cool photo, and there is nothing painful about it really…he wrapped some elastics around his face big flippin WHOOP! Anyone who cringes at this photo obviously doesn’t know how squishy a face is and how little a rubber band wrapped around it hurts. Good job raising such a hooplah over something so innocent.

    • Thank you!

      Advice? You have to be totally passionate about photography, carry a camera everywhere and just keep shooting. Accept negative criticism as well as positive. But most importantly – shoot the images that please you, you only ever need to please yourself.

  36. When I first glimpsed this on the Freshly Pressed page, I thought it had been Photoshopped with barbed wire where the rubber bands were. Seeing as how mankind seems to enjoy suffering based on the choices we make, it seemed a likely enough image.

  37. it certainly has a shock factor. it reminds me of texas chainsaw massacre for some reason. it’s art and those who do not see it as such, too bad for them. Kudos for FP!

  38. I think this photo is a cool experiment, but it’s obvious from your other work it’s not really all you’re about as a photographer. It’s a shame if people come to your blog and this is the only page they look at. In fact, I look at most photo blogs on FP (or try to as much as time allows) and I avoided this one for a long while! You have a real talent for shooting people (as I’m sure you know!). I am really not good at shooting people at all so I’m hoping I’ll get some inspiration ;-)

  39. I had to press the like button! cause i love it! My Christmas cards involved my son wrapped in Christmas lights acting surprised and I received soooo much critism for it. Like really!? He had a blast and so did we. I guess everyone expected us to take a picture in front of a huge well-lit Christmas tree with huge grins and ugly sweaters. Not my kind of thing! Thanks for the post!

  40. Pingback: How to have fun with elastic bands « abigailedge.co.uk

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