Phil Toledano, Plagiarism, and the Bare-legged, Bare-footed Abuse Victim Trope….

Phil Toledano, Plagiarism, and the Bare-legged, Bare-footed Abuse Victim Trope….

[Let me say right at the beginning of this post, dealing as it does with disturbing images of young models depicting victims of abuse, that the fact I’m discussing it from a “photographic”, artistic point of view doesn’t mean I’m belittling the sufferings of real victims – far from it. However, this isn’t a suitable blog to get into the whys and wherefores of a deeply sensitive subject. If anyone is triggered, or disturbed by any of the images, then a good place to go would be here. From my point of view, it’s a photographic subject that necessarily involves girls, and girl models, and the way images associated with it are put together is a legitimate area of interest.]




….the first (plus enlarged crop) is an extremely memorable anti-child abuse image, made by the McCann Erickson Agency (Spain) in 2010 for the Brazilian Casa do Menor – it did cause some controversy at the time: did they initially shoot a naked child (extremely ironic if they had, obviously)? Does this really have any effect on abusers – isn’t it just a clever visual conceit? And finally, was it plagiarised from the second image, made by the Ebb and Flow Agency (France) in 2006 for the seemingly-defunct site

Well the answer to the second question – at least according to photographic artist Phil Toledano – is that while the first may be “intellectual” plagiarism, the second was already “outright theft” of his digital artwork Hope and Fear/10 (source here, in the comments):


….I don’t have any more details, but the strange thing is that the Ebb and Flow artist seems to have had access to Phil’s pre-edited shots of the model – it’s definitely the same girl.

Phil refers to plagiarism in a Facebook post as well – I just don’t know if the original was his or he’s outing himself:

The question about whether the Casa do Menor ad creators initially shot a naked model (extremely unlikely – there are a number of ways the image could have been captured before editing) reminded me that anti-child abuse images remarkably often depict the girl model in relatively brief skirts, dresses or shorts. I’m not exaggerating  – and I’d love to know what the rationale is behind it: do the creators (either a team if it’s an agency, or a hard-pressed stock-image snapper) want to depict the victims as being dressed in a seemingly-vulnerable way? That the abusers intentionally dressed them like that? Or just that the visual concept “girl” requires the model to be wearing a skirt or dress, like the traffic signs that warn of the proximity of schoolchildren?









little sad girl sitting on the bed





Girl sat alone on stairs

… trope they almost all use is the classic knee hugging, to indicate fear, anxiety and stress and in eleven out of my fourteen images the model has bare feet – which isn’t statistically realistic. These are pretty well all stock images, where the photographer puts up anything he/she thinks will sell, and I honestly think that given this scenario, they actually want to make her look attractive and “cute”………..even when the caption the stock-image provider finally adds might refer to “Suicidal Girl”….

The other tropes most often used are the headshot with a monitory adult hand in front of the face, or the child’s open palm saying “Stop” : these are more often the creations of ad agencies, so the “attractiveness” of the model is given less importance, if the client doesn’t require it:


child-abuse (2)

……the final trope is the most basic and visceral: just a child seemingly in anguish:


….and I have often wondered how you get a young child to achieve that kind of verisimilitude without the photographer resorting to something also verging on abuse…..I guess it’s just that kids can be incredible actors at very young ages…. And just to come full-circle, Phil Toledano even had his adored daughter Loulou (see her in Phil’s lovely little vid and the photo with him in the image-links below) snapped by the doyen of crying-children photographers, Jill Greenberg:


Me and the dumpling (and snowbear of course)

A post shared by mrtoledano/phillip toledano (@mrtoledano) on


8 thoughts on “Phil Toledano, Plagiarism, and the Bare-legged, Bare-footed Abuse Victim Trope….

  1. That ‘hands’ image churns my stomach. I guess that’s the point. Maybe I’m just gullible or optimistic but I’ll always favor a big full-face smile, the more spontaneous the better.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Blair had an interesting question about pedos…
    If the person you love most in this world (spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend/sister/best friend/whatever) killed a pedophile instead of reporting it to police, would you flee the country/hide with them or turn them in?

    The comments are very good. I favor the cornfield/shovel solution, being direct and economical. YMMV.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi, I read a good proportion of the comments – and I was surprised so many , even “hypothetically”, could envisage killing someone. The problem for me is that it’s rarely so cut and dried: it’s an extreme case, but I remember in Britain where a pediatrician was nearly killed and had his house set on fire by a group of neighbours who clearly were a little confused about terminology. In the vast majority of cases you’d end up killing the child’s parent, relative or “family friend” – and it would probably only add to his or her trauma.
    Reading the details of cases it seems to be rarely the depraved, sick predator of random children – even if those are the ones that get the most headlines. But then – if it was my child…..

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s all hypothetical until the good and the bad are only an arm’s reach from each other. But that’s different than crowd fever, mob violence, BLM, kitten attacks. Pedophile is not the same as child molester, don’t have to go back very far to find horrible labels and treatment of gays and lesbians. What’s the difference? A thought and an act. That’s all.
    If it was my child … my child would kick him in the jimmy and run like hell. Teach your kid not to be a victim.


  5. I’m with you … without the photographer resorting to something also verging on abuse

    For most kids I believe “look miserable” means nothing to them. But emotional manipulation is all the rage now, don’t even have to be a kid.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Jill Greenberg’s position is that kids don’t cry (I think she means “don’t always cry”) from pain, but as a form of communication: I get that – it can mean “bored/uncomfortable/sleepy/irritable” as well as “the dog just bit my ass”: but Loulou looks really pissed (see, I can write yankee slang….!)


  7. Girls cry, emotional manipulation. I want something, give it to me and I’ll stop crying. That’s very different from sitting in the corner in an upright fetal position. She’s manipulating the manipulating. Smiles are easier!

    Liked by 1 person

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