Stock Photo Hell

cartoon winking devil that looks suspiciously like Bob Dobbs

Live from the Satanic chapter of the Church of the Subgenius!

Circle Nine: Betrayal

Betrayal of Benefactors

If he used to be as handsome as he is now hideous,
And raised his eyebrows in contempt of his creator,
One can see how every bit of ire, envy, and despair

Derives from him. I was totally astonished
To see his head had three faces:
The one in front, facing us, was red;

There were two others, joined to the first
By a seam that began at the center of the shoulder;
The three became one at the crown.

-Canto XXXIV, Mary Jo Bang translation


And we come to the final canto, the final sub-circle of the final circle of Hell. And it is this: Satan, enormous, with three mouths, constantly chewing on the three worst traitors of all time: Judas Iscariot, Brutus, and Cassius. The wind from Satan’s six eternally-beating wings keeps the lake of Cocytus frozen; his tears and drool are what make up the lake. It is a literal lake of Satan’s frozen tears. Satan is only described in the 34th canto of Inferno, which is significant because Purgatorio and Paradiso only have 33 cantos. The entire Divine Comedy gets 100 cantos total, and that extra canto goes into Inferno because Inferno is the place of excess. And in that extra canto lives Satan. Dante’s final point is that the most-tortured soul in hell is Satan himself. Satan, condemned to forever masticate the worst of humanity. To never swallow or cease weeping. And in order to progress to Purgatory, Dante and Virgil climb down to where Satan is sunk deep in the earth…they climb down to the pit between his legs and through the earth itself, which apparently takes about three days (Jesus resurrection reference, anyone?). And then they’re out by the foot of the mountain of Purgatory, which was pushed up out of the earth on the opposite side of the world to where Satan fell (and has been stuck ever since).

Inferno ends with one of my favorite lines, which Mary Jo Bang translates thus: “And we walked out / To once again catch sight of the stars.” Try saying it in Italian to catch some of the spirit of Dante’s poetry: “E quindi uscimmo a rivider la stelle.” Not a bad note to end on, in my opinion.


Search terms: Satan, woman satan, business satan

I cannot believe that in all of Stock Photo Hell, I haven’t done this search yet. Because it’s pretty ridiculous. So ridiculous, in fact, that in lieu of the standard descriptions, I bring you Stock Photo Hell Satan Bingo:

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

Keep your eyes peeled for:

Satanic branding!
Things that don’t have much to do with Satan but look “devilish” to Stock Photo Land’s eyes!
Casual racism!
The Bride of Satan!
“Sensual Satan”!
Someone who couldn’t spell “satin”!
Fear of women in general!
“Dirty atheist teen”!
“Fashion Satan”!
An aspergillum (brush for flinging holy water) that looks oddly like a tiny tiny witch’s broom!
and so much more!

So. In the end, what is the outcome of Stock Photo Hell? Who is the Satan of Stock Photo Hell? Have I been playing Virgil to your Dante? Do we move on to some sort of DeviantArt purgatory, followed by a paradise in which real representations of actual people are made by well-paid illustrators?

…Or are we both the ones at the bottom of the pit, eternally chewing on these tropes, unable to unsee them? I’m not sure. I know that for me, this process has let me see through another veil of advertising, that many-veiled creature with its eternal hunger. This process has made me think specifically about women in advertising and stock photos. Women and people of color are dead canaries in the Stock Photo Land coal mine, and therefore worth paying attention to. Stock Photo Land is a warning, a reminder of the lowest common denominator blueprint of our society. And at the same time, stock photos are a tool. I use them sometimes, as a book designer. I don’t use the Cyber Woman Holding Corn or anything, but they’re all part of the web of stock photo illustration. I didn’t do this to condemn stock photos as much as the magical land of Stock Photo Hell, where all the stupidest tropes go to die.

Reader, I leave you to come to your own conclusions. In the meantime, let us go forth, away from this rectangular opening, and once again see the stars.


Next up: Something completely different.