In the age of online anonymity and the wildfire affect of social media culture, we all know there’s nothing better than a good old fashioned witch hunt. Something to get up in arms about! An outrage! You won’t believe what happens next! Number 17 will blow your mind! We’ve seen this proven time and time again from #HasJustineLandedYet to that fucking dress that ruined everyones lives.

Recently, celebrity photographer and Friend of the Frog, Ricky Middlesworth found himself the target of this internet mob mentality. Ricky’s work as a photographer runs the gamut – everything from movie posters, to fashion spreads on America’s Next Top Model, to celebrity portraits. He has previously been featured on the Frog for his promotional images of Mary-Kate and Ashtray, Welcome to DeadCast, and Matthew Scott Montgomery’s original shows Dead of Winter and Spook Night.

 

Spook Night and Dead of Winter show posters by Ricky Middlesworth   Mark-Kate and Ashtray promotional photo by Ricky Middlesworth   Processed with Moldiv

And Ricky recently shot fabulous promotional pics for our favorite horror podcast duo, Boys and Ghouls:

 

Boys and Ghouls by Ricky Middlesworth

While much of Ricky’s work is professionally commissioned, his love for the medium inspires him to make time for his own passion projects. On May 23rd, 2015, Ricky posted this image to his Instagram account:

 

Joker by Ricky Middlesworth

Included with the picture were the hashtags #JaredLeto, #SuicideSquad, and #RickyMiddlesworth as well as the caption “End Game” and a tiny Joker emoji.

So, naturally, the internet flipped its shit.

Within minutes, the comments began streaming in. Everyone from 30 Seconds to Mars fans to co-producer of Suicide SquadAndy Horwitz, commented on this photo, eager to call out “BS!” and adamantly declare the image #fake. As the bandwagon rumbled through the internet highways, many were quick to jump on board, including fan site DCComicsMovie.com who posted an egregiously incorrect article about Ricky’s “claims.” While many commended Ricky on his beautiful piece of fan art, others targeted him as an attention-seeking hack who needed to be chastised for attempting to dupe them. It was picked up by Superhero Feed, Jared Leto Worldwide, and continues to be shared and retweeted by friends and foes alike. Bottom line: this picture got people excited.

In an exclusive interview with the Frog, Ricky cleared up all the madness about the “authenticity” of his Joker pic.

“I’m the biggest Batman fan you will ever meet. And I follow fanboy accounts like a 13-year-old. I love the media buzz around films like Suicide Squad. So  harmlessly I shot this photo of my friend as the Joker in my apartment.  Basically the most fun Ricky Middlesworth could possibly have. I always shoot things to look studio-produced (otherwise, why waste my time?). Well, apparently I did a decent enough job that a SIMPLE hashtag sent 30 Seconds to Mars fans into a hateful re-posting frenzy. All of a sudden I was this hack who was desperate for attention. Some people still think it’s official from Warner Brothers. It was really funny, because you see the exact same hashtags on these kids’ fan art (usually drawings) of Jared Leto, but no one says a word. I just took it as a compliment, because it was convincing enough to make people question it. Social media is a funny place. Even grown women with children were calling me names.”

So there it is. Sorry to squelch your torches so unceremoniously, but sometimes it’s important to take a step back and use your human brain powers of perception and reasoning before rushing for the tar and feathers. Ricky never claimed that the photo was real. He tagged its inspirations, just as any other fan artist would. His time and commitment and attention to detail made this image excitably authentic seeming. And somehow, someway, that translated to panic and fear of deception. The blood rose, the mob gathered and the chanting began… We will not be fooled! We are smart! You are fake!

So is his art just too good? Are we saying that art is fine when it’s obviously art, but if it brushes too closely with our perception of reality then suddenly the artist is trying to trick us? Why is it that we jump so quickly on the offense?

Within all of this chaos, it’s most important to remember that there’s a living, breathing human being on the other side of those comment boxes. In this case, that human being happens to be a talented professional whose love for the franchise inspired him to create an impressive work of photographic art. (In case you’re curious, the model he used for the Joker photo is Matty Morbid.)

The photo is still up on Ricky’s account, as well it should be. It’s a professionally executed tribute from a real super-fan. Only one change has been made since all of the online madness began. Ricky says, “I never claimed it was real, so I got rid of the hashtags to minimize the witch-hunters.” That’s right, dear Froggies. In this day and age, a hashtag is all it takes.

We see you Ricky, and we at the Frog are nothing but impressed by your imagination, your commitment, and your craft. Follow Ricky on Instagram, and check out www.RickyMiddlesworth.com for more of his gorgeous photography.

Keep creating, Froggies! Never mind the haters!

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