US photographer behind image in controversial government-backed ‘Fatima’ advert says she is “devastated”

Krys Alex said that if she'd known that her photo "was going to be used in the way it was, I would have never agreed to it"

The US photographer who took the image of a ballet dancer that featured in the controversial UK government-backed ‘Fatima’ advert has said she is “devastated” that her photo was used in this way.

The GCHQ-backed CyberFirst advert — which was part of a 2019 campaign suggesting people from “all walks of life” give up their day jobs or passions to “rethink, reskill [and] reboot” for a career in cyber security — was heavily criticised after it resurfaced on social media earlier this week for showing a “total lack of respect for the arts”.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden disowned the advert following the backlash, calling it “crass”. The advert, which has re-emerged at a time when people in the arts are facing huge financial challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic, has since been pulled.

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Krys Alex, the Atlanta-based photographer who shot the original image of the ballet dancer ‘Fatima’, has responded to the furore over the advert in a YouTube interview, saying that she was “shocked” to see her image being used in this way.

Clarifying that ‘Fatima’ is actually “a young, talented and beautiful aspiring dancer from Atlanta” called Desire’e Kelley, Alex explained how she came to learn of the criticism that had been directed at the CyberFirst advert.

“I was shocked. I woke up Monday morning to a bunch of emails and tags, and I really felt devastated,” she said in a new video. “I immediately thought about Desire’e and how her face was just plastered all over social media and the internet, different news articles and memes were created, and she had no clue. All of that really hurt me.

“Some people questioned if I knew and if I approved the use of my work. If I’d have know that this was going to be used in the way it was, I would have never agreed to it.”

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Alex’s photo was listed on the stock image site Unsplash, whose licence states that pictures can be downloaded for free for both commercial and non-commercial purposes. Alex said that “we’re exploring all our options, and we’re talking and consulting with different professionals to figure out the best way to protect our rights in this situation.”

The photographer added that she “understands the controversy going on with this photograph”.

“I can relate as an independent artist in the creative community. The pandemic really hit us hard. It’s not easy to find work, especially being a black woman during all the current racial injustice going on. It’s really hard,” she said.

“I feel like artists should stand together and support each other. Our hard work deserves to be recognised, and we should not be encouraged to stop doing what we love.”

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