Though the London riots lasted for days, splintering off into trouble in other cities, very few Urgent Geniuses have emerged to turn the topical issue into humour. One site, however, has been grabbing worldwide attention. Photoshop Looter is a Tumblr blog, the result of some content by the author and a lot of fan-submitted efforts. Like the numerous ‘naming and shaming’ galleries it collates images of the London looters, only remaining them as something unexpected. Hooded kids playing jump-rope with the riot police, overpowering an ice-cream van or risking life and limb to make off with a toy giraffe.. the site uses surreal humor to highlight just how surreal real life can get. It’s featured already on the Huffington Post and has been shared over 130,000 times on Facebook. We interviewed the creative force behind the site, the mysterious PhotoshopLooter himself.
The riots were a bit of a slow-burn, till suddenly it seemed there was a house on fire and an army of angry Turks around every corner. How early on did you decide to create something in response?
Monday evening. Sat in an old street Vietnamese restaurant hearing sirens going past. Idea of humorous reaction popped into my head. Inspiration from battered prawns.
It seems appropriate to bring Tumblr into the riot fray; every other social media outlet has had some kind of role in it! How did you promote it, originally? Did you tweet it on #londonriots, or would that have been too much?
I did nothing except place on Facebook’s newsfeed. Within an hour it had thousands of tweets. Basically, I didn’t have time to seed it, it just flew.
Have you created similar projects previously? Are you a regular Tumblr user?
Some things, but nothing that has gone so global so fast. I wasn’t a Tumblr user before, but now with 10,000 plus followers I probably am. It’s a great tool which complements other social media, without being too multipurpose.
Starting out with the site, did you start with your own images before submissions started flooding in? Are you surprised at the Photoshop skills of the nation?
Yes, I created four images. The snake is my favorite, but people have done far better since. I’ve received a new of art about every minute. Sometimes five a minute. There’s a range of skills on display, although sometimes quality comes more from humour than Photoshop skills…
You still have only 3 followers on Twitter, but a massive number of Facebook likes.. do you think there’s a tendency for people to not ‘follow’ and only browse Twitter as a way of finding links to other outlets?
Someone else started up the Twitter account before me, the same goes for Facebook. Although the person seems to be following the Tumblr quite well… The idea itself has been tweeted many thousands of times, but yes, the Facebook share figure is pretty up there- 130k+.
Do you have a background in graphics?
I’m a writer/art director at an interesting london ad agency
One thing that comes to mind looking at Photoshop Looter is how much really iconic images, from war, especially, have often been altered with Photoshop’s lo-fi predecessors. Which do you think will be the most iconic images of the riots, and how have you decided to alter them?
Yes, Banksy springs to mind. I think really it will be the silly ones which really work and remain. The cat stealing and the dog walker in particular.
Social media, and in particular photos in social media, are now helping to incriminate the looters. Have any of the images on Photoshop Looter played a role in tracking down the rioters? It’d be a wonderful icing on the cake. you get convicted, and the whole world sees you rioting stealing a record by Abba…
Not sure. I think and hope these images will take some of the coolness out of what the looters have done – for them at least.
When’s the book out? And how on earth did that happen so quickly?!
Thank Lulu. Books out now, although I’m trying to find photographers and agencies to credit them and ask permissions as some are understandably angry at the copyright infringement. But that said, the money is going to great causes.
Many of the events, and resulting images from the riots really did seem surreal. Was Photoshop Looters created out of sheer bafflement at how things could get so bad so quickly?
Maybe subconsciously. I was very close to the action and just felt pretty unsympathetic to the looters. Looting is just low.
Which is your favorite of the images?
I like Catnick, and the guy who stole the other guys trousers.
Have you tracked their popularity? Which images attract the most interest?
Catnick, Cameron and Missing.
Does Justin Bieber know about this? Do you have an axe to grind against him? I hear he’s hanging out with rappers these days, trying to be a bit more ‘gangsta’.. you might hurt his feelings..
Not sure who he is.
Did the HuffPost tell you that they were featuring the site? And have you seen a spike in interest resulting from it?
Yes, most news outlets have asked permission which has been given readily. Although the site is only really a platform to spread the good work.
What platform has been the most effective in promoting the site; Twitter, Facebook, or simply the Tumblr itself combined with coverage in news media?
Analytics says that direct email has been pretty big. But yes, Twitter and FB have had been big helpers. We are well into the millions, which feels quite nice.
Are you still working with a standard free Tumblr template, and the Tumblr URL? Do you plan to keep the whole thing as simple and uncommercial as possible?
Yes. And yes. I think in life when you hit middle age you should keep dancing, but as for memes like this, they can try and dance but it can feel too forced. If it’s purpose can evolve though, I’d be happy with that.