Sunday, November 16, 2008

I Have a Meme: Disaster Girl

Almost four years ago, one dreary January Saturday morning, the kids and I were hanging out at home, watching TV and waiting for springtime, when Jennifer came home and said "I can't believe you're not up the street at that huge fire."

Huge fire? We gotta go see that, so we grabbed the camera and the kids and took of up the street to check it out. Two blocks away was a single-family home that was fully engulfed in flames. The Mebane Fire Department was already on the scene, but not really doing anything, other than wishing they could drive up and down the street with their sirens on some more. . . but I digress. It appeared that this house was donated to the fire department for training, as no one really seemed very intent on extinguishing it. They were even letting kids hold the firehose and point the spray at the house.

Regardless, it made for some great photos. I shot what was a bunch for me at the time, probably 20 or 30, including a couple of the kids with the fire in the background. Most noteworthy of those was this one of Zoe, that I call "Firestarter"


It got a lot of positive attention on Zooomr, where it was originally hosted, even earning some kudos from photographers I admire, like Daniel Krieger, Thomas Hawk, Jeremy Brooks, and others. That was posted in early 2007 and I didn't give it much thought for about a year.

I was checking out JPG Magazine, which publishes a full-color glossy magazine of user-submitted photos. They had a theme at the time called "Emotion Capture." I thought this shot may be appropriate, so I uploaded it, and submitted to the magazine. Lo and behold, the picture was selected for publication! I got my picture in a national magazine, a free subscription, and a hundred bucks! This photography stuff is fun! The picture on the JPG Magazine website got a lot of positive attention, views, and kudos. JPG had me shoot another photo of Zoe, holding her copy of JPG Magazine, and used that picture in a blog post.

Once again, I didn't think too much about it, until Ben Dan Hawks, a contact over at Zooomr let me know that my picture was on and in various caption and photoshop contests. From there it made it to and then more places than I could keep up with. My picture on the JPG Magazine site is now up over 95,000 views.

The fun part are the photoshopped revisions of the original photo, crediting Zoe with whatever disaster is pictured

There's even a history of "Disaster Girl," Forest Gump-style at many important events through history.

And a video!

JPG Magazine has done a follow-up blog post on the image's Internet meme status.

I've had people, so-called "image experts" e-mail me and inquire about the photo, and what alterations I've done to it, whether is was photoshopped or not. They have these tremendous theories about the alterations I've made, but the truth is, this shot is straight out of the camera, no processing whatsoever. Take that, image experts! And as far as getting Zoe to pose like that with that subtle smirk. . .just dumb luck. I wish I could say the whole thing was masterfully skillful on my part, but it really wasn't. If you take enough pictures, you're bound to get a few keepers, regardless of your skill level.

All the while, Zoe, who did not start that fire, is mildly amused.

And now you know the true story of Disaster Girl.

UPDATE: 12/29/2008

Disaster Girl was featured on an episode of Rocketboom

Update, June 27, 2009

You can now buy your own officially licensed copy of the Disaster Girl photo from Redbubble, with a part of the proceeds going to Zoe herself. Just follow this link


Xia said...

Just watched today's Rocketboom that featured your little disaster girl. I'm happy to see that you are taking this for what it is and enjoying it rather than losing your mind over it like some meme stories (just think of the poor kid and he star wars fight). Great shot by the way, enjoy the fame and she's an adorable girl!!

From Xia's Mommy - Stephanie

The Roth Family said...

Thank you. We hadn't seen that one yet. Zoe got a real kick out of it.

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Marcellus Kin said...

I was always wondering where this photo originated, and thanks to Reddit, I now know. And with the back story, it's even more awesome. From one photographer to another, EXCELLENT job!

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Chris Crockett said...

I always seem to be late in coming to these things.

Your picture of Zoe has spread quite widely now, and appears on quickmeme, where I found it yesterday evening. I've already had a hoot captioning the image about thirty times now, and will probably continue to revisit it with alarming regularity. That the photo is not photoshopped in any way just makes it that much better in my eyes. Thank you for sharing!

Here are a few of my favorites. If you like them and want to see more of my work (is it work when I'm having entirely too much fun?), I'll be happy to accommodate you. Enjoy. Chris

Christophe Dujarric said...

Hi Dave,

I'd like to use the "Disaster girl" meme in an ad, and discuss about copyright with you.

How can I get in touch with you?


Unknown said...

hi! this pic is now being used in a kickstarter and game, hopefully they got your permission first?

Be the one said...

Your picture of Zoe has spread quite widely now, and appears on quickmeme, where I found it yesterday evening. I've already had a hoot captioning the image about thirty times now, and will probably continue to revisit it with alarming regularity. That the photo is not photoshopped in any way just makes it that much better in my eyes..

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