Free Resources and You

Bratavism screenshot of a squishy, splattered world with a coral-encrusted cellphone depicting alien social media images

Bratavism screenshot featuring alien social media posts collaged from personal and Pixabay images

My 2017 game Bratavism was, in part, a celebration of freely shared creative resources. I relied heavily on Pixabay.com, FreeSound.org, and FreeMusicArchive.org (specifically the work of Loyalty Freak Music), all sites featuring free media shared under permissive Creative Commons licenses. I even included a giant data table listing exactly how each resource was used - not because this is morally or contractually necessary (this level of detail is generally unfeasible in a larger project) but because I often wonder how other people use resources so I thought it would be an interesting exercise.

Screenshot of the resource credits table from the bratavism page. It shows the music credits and a bunch of sound samples and freesound usernames with descriptions of how the sounds were mixed into various sound effects

Part of the Bratavism credits table

I think a big psychological shift occurs when media is shared for free as a creative tool. If you have to pay, you start thinking along the lines of: "Will this 'investment' pay off? Am I sure I need this? Do I have the skill to use this? Do I know what this is for?" and if you are selling resources, you might feel more pressure to think in terms of: "Is this the sort of thing people will buy? Is it definitively 'useful'? Does it fit people's vision of 'exactly what they want'?" It's difficult not to shift towards a value system of caution, prior expertise, and quantification. It becomes harder to justify experimental, educational, or controversial work. On a purely practical level, I've used hundreds of pre-existing photos and textures in my work on Anodyne 2 and Sephonie. If I didn't have access to free resources as a small, independent developer, I would simply be capable of much less.

Of course, we must also consider the fact that creating media takes work. One might reasonably say: "people deserve to be paid for their work" but I think we can abstract this further! Ideally, everyone could afford to do work that matters to them, regardless of whether or not it could ever be successfully monetized. One simple place to start is to enjoy and celebrate the public domain (Like at the Public Domain Review and Duke's Center for the Study of the Public Domain) as well as the non-commercial creative work of the present. This topic exceeds the scope of this blog post, but here are some related readings:

A Pixabay Icon

Over the course of my many image searches on Pixabay, I started to recognize an increasingly familiar face. She would turn up within the first few pages in search results for things like:

"Stadium"

Victoria wearing sporty clothes and  sitting in the bleachers of a small sports field.

"Television"

Victoria in denim overalls leaning on an old tv displaying static.

or "Gothic"

Victoria in Van Helsing cosplay with cross-patterned garters, a knife, and a gun.

Normally, the people in stock photography are intentionally unrecognizable - they stand in for a generalized concept of human types, situations, or narratives. We tend to find it shocking and delightful when this illusion is shattered, for instance, when a celebrity's stock photo past is unearthed...

Simu Liu conferring with a co-worker in a classic abstract office stock photo

...Or when a meme character (or satirical headline punching bag) speaks out in their own voice

The thumbnail for a video interview with András Arató about his meme character

I Accidentally Became A Meme: Hide The Pain Harold by Buzzfeed Video

Rarer still is the opportunity to experience the work of a stock photography model as an oeuvre - but in the case of Vic_B, it feels inevitable: a kind of magic, sparked between Pixabay's context and the unbridled creative energy of this Russian multidisciplinary artist.

Victoria in rustic garb carrying a basket of linens by a lake as if to wash them.

Vic_B maintains the archetypal quality of standard stock photography, drawing upon such iconographic wells as retro fashion, work attire, high fantasy, and orientalism (it must be noted that occasionally her costumes read as culturally insensitive within a contemporary US racial politics). But she departs from the often sanitized standards of stock photography by incorporating influence from erotic/fetish photography, particularly the sensibilities of sites like MetArt. There is no consistent aesthetic differentiation between the SFW and NSFW imagery; the erotic content is not demarcated by setting, lighting, or color grading (Although Pixabay does have a "safe search" feature). There's something very rare and charming about this contextual continuity: the erotic as one of many modes to inhabit, rather than a shadowy and sequestered inversion of the "ordinary".

A diptych of Victoria posed as a Duchess in a crown and royal gown. On the left, she is simply standing and holding a rose. On the right she is leaning against a wall and pulling aside her skirt to reveal her panties.

These divisions - between the sexual and the pure, the "safe" and the "unsafe" - are normally highly contested, both in physical spaces and on the internet, particularly in post-FOSTA-SESTA America. The fallout from these contestations often fall heaviest along broader axes of marginalization. Somewhat relatedly, this fascinating Chaoyang Trap piece gets at some of the contradictions and instabilities surrounding censorship of homoerotic slash fic in a Chinese context. Apparently, a tenuous landscape exists in which monetization may paradoxically provide either cover or culpability re: censors, depending on whether your work is distributed through a digital app or physical zine.

An Interview with Vic_B

A bold retro clubbing style shoot in which Victoria's bright red and silver outfit is light by intensely colored lights.

With over 10,000 images uploaded to Pixabay since opening her account in August of 2017, Victoria aka Vic_B is one of the most prolific, popular, and recognizable creators on Pixabay. I came to Pixabay for photos of buildings, mushrooms, or fabrics to be used in video game textures, but over time I began to look forward to seeing Victoria incidentally pop up in all manner of costumes and settings. Entering a search term like "construction site", I would think to myself, "has Vic_B done a construction-themed shoot?" (she has). I imagined making a game using exclusively her photos for the graphics - perhaps a play on Final Fantasy X-2's dress up battle system, or the old comedic trope of a mysterious small town where a single person fills every role.

All of the various outfits that can be equipped by Yuna in Final Fantasy X-2, for example the modestly cloaked White Mage or the armored warrior

Different costumes you can equip in Final Fantasy X-2, image courtesy of Sasukes_gurl

A collaged room featuring potted plants, a painting, and a dog looking at a soccer ball

Incidentally, a game engine exists specifically to make explorable 3D collages from Pixabay images (sok-worlds), so it would not be too hard to create "Vic_B Adventures"! Image by sok-worlds

Her approach feels playful, jumping between sexy and silly, fantastical and mundane. She tends towards clear lighting and a neutral color grade, which makes her images well-suited for collage, remix, and reference (This is generally the Pixabay house style; contrast with another free image site Unsplash, which centers aesthetic color grades and dramatic chiarascuro lighting. Unsplash photos convey an expensive and polished air "out-of-the-box" and are consequently far less flexible to use).

Victoria dressed as a Christmas elf holding a giant axe and flashing a mischievous grin

As a person who thinks a lot about creative resources and independent art, I was curious to know more about Victoria. Some information I was able to glean from her Boosty profile (a subscription site similar to Patreon or Onlyfans), which was linked on her Pixabay. She self-describes as an "Artist, musician, photographer and creative model", and she takes commissions for drawings and photo shoot ideas.

A drawing of a young couple wearing headphones and lying down together while floating in the clouds. It appears to be a mix of watercolor and digital editing.

In addition to her photos, Vic_B posts many other works to Pixabay, including watercolors, vector icons, and music

I reached out to Victoria via Pixabay dm, and she graciously agreed to an interview. Her answers are fascinating, and I'm excited to present this interview!

Please note: her words have been run through google translate (with slight clean-up by me), so there may be mistranslations. The original Russian can be found below.


Victoria in a light blue blouse sitting amidst tall grass on a hill with a wide open sky behind her.

Marina Kittaka: Why did you start sharing on Pixabay? How has it affected your life?

Victoria B: It happened in 2017. At that time, I was fond of writing books (fairy tales, fantasy, stories - I tried different things) at an amateur level. And in the editorial, covers and illustrations were allowed only with copyright. The recommendations included links to resources such as pixabay. I took from here photos and drawings by other creators for my books, and then I thought, maybe I should try to post my photos and drawings. That's how it all started. How it affected my life - I think I became more confident in myself, bolder, life became more complete in spiritual terms and self-realization of the individual. It has become an interesting and exciting hobby. Every one of my friends once saw me on the Internet somewhere in someone else's video. on the cover of a book or in some entertainment or news article. My fame only on the Internet and ended. A couple of times interviewed in newspapers. Also, my photos are very often used by artists for their work in Photoshop, then they tag me. This is what I like the most! Such beautiful works and arts are sent.

Victoria in a dramatic red burlesque outfit with a long cigarette holder

MK: Have you had formal training in photography, modeling, art, etc? What is your background like?

VB: I have a strong artistic background - I graduated from the Faculty of Architecture. An architect is an artist, a sculptor, an engineer, a designer, a photographer, and everything related to art. But compared to other architects, I consider my level even below average. Because there are real architects - giants of academic drawing, composition, and creativity. I did not take any additional courses specifically in photography and model posing.

Victoria posed with a dreamy expression among earth-tones sculptures of nudes

MK: I believe that the world would be better if art could be shared and remixed more freely. However, as a creator it can be scary to give up that control. With a very free license, someone might use your work or image in a way that you dislike or disagree with. Does this bother you? How do you get past that fear?

VB: Yes, I've met artists on pixabay who are very protective of their work - they don't allow remixes or anything. I take it a lot easier. On the contrary, I am glad when my drawings and photos are used. How to get rid of the fear that others use the work, perhaps imagine that anyway everyone knows that you are the author of the source code. We need a super program, a special neural network that automatically tracks all changes to the original source and indicates the dates and all authors in the chain. Plus, it takes into account all sites on the Internet, and if a work is sold somewhere, automatic small deductions are made to each author and author of the remix. It would be great

Victoria holding the tip of her fedora while lounging on a slick dark blue motorcycle

MK: You are sharing images that must have taken a lot of time, work, and expense, from the makeup and costuming to the photo editing and artwork. Is this a financially difficult decision? Do people tip well on Pixabay?

VB: Regarding retouching and costumes. In terms of money, this is not very expensive, I try to take a lot of photos at home, resell old suits and clothes. In terms of time, yes, it takes a lot. But I do it for myself, investing in my personality. Therefore, I try. Donations were small before the war with Ukraine, about 70-100 dollars a month, but now there is nothing.

A photo of a hand posed with small wildflowers bandaged to it.

MK: Your profile lists you as Moscow-based. Do you have any thoughts about copyright law in Russia? For example, in the USA, Disney has successfully lobbied Congress to change copyright laws multiple times to protect their early works from falling into the public domain. This does not protect the creators of the work who have died long ago, instead it gives more power to big corporations. I find this very frustrating.

VB: Copyright in Russia is easy to violate. Here, even the authors themselves pay little attention to copyright. Because only the author can protect copyright. You can chase violators through the courts and spoil your nerves, or you can take it more calmly, create something new all the time and you will be known as a wonderful author. About complex laws in Russia. In Russia, this is also possible. It is necessary to go through several stages of courts up to the constitutional court, but only a few of ordinary citizens reached it and influenced the laws. As for Disney, yes, it's most likely wrong when they completely own the iconic character and just make money from it. For example, it would be great if Disney, from its business on a certain character, developed an author's museum or published a special magazine about its authors, or did some kind of charity event in memory of the author of the character. For Disney, this would be a penny on the cost, but a very noble and positive example for the rest of the world.

Victoria tuning an old radio in a retro plaid dress

MK: Our generation grew up with the rise of the internet, and many people feel that it has had a lot of both positive and negative effects. How do you feel about the internet and social media?

VB: I am very good with the Internet and social networks. I still found the time when I had neither a computer, nor a mobile phone, nor a computer. Those were some terrible times. I regret this time, it's like lost. The Internet is a very good assistant in life - from the banal to read reviews about doctors or courses, to the important - to develop as a person, to study, to quickly and conveniently learn from experience.

Victoria in a green field spreading the wings of a monarch butterfly costume

Мarina Кittaka: Почему вы начали делиться на Pixabay? Как это повлияло на вашу жизнь?

Victoria B: Это случилось в 2017 году. Я тогда увлекалась написанием книг (сказки, фантастика, рассказы - пробовала разное) на любительском уровне. И в редакции обложки и иллюстрации разрешались только с авторским правом. В рекомендациях были ссылки на такие ресурсы, как pixabay. Я брала отсюда фото и рисунки других авторов для своих книг, а потом подумала, может и мне свои фото и рисунки попробовать выложить. Так все и началось. Как повлияло на жизнь - думаю стала увереннее в себе, смелее, жизнь стала более полной в духовном плане и самореализации личности. Это стало интересным и увлекательным хобби. Каждый мой знакомый когда-то видел меня в интернете где-нибудь в чужом ролике. на обложке книги или в какой-нибудь развлекательной или новостной статье. Моя слава только интернетом и закончилась. Пару раз брали интервью из газет. Также мои фото очень часто берут художники для свои работ в фотошопе, потом меня отмечают. Это мне нравится больше всего! Такие красивые работы и арты присылают.

МК: У тебя было формальное обучение фотографии, моделированию, искусству и т.д.? Каков ваш фон?

VB: У меня сильная художественная подготовка - я закончила архитектурный факультет. Архитектор это и художник, и скульптор, и инженер, и дизайнер, и фотограф и все что связано с искусством. Но свой уровень по сравнению с другими архитекторами я считаю даже ниже среднего. Потому что бывают самые настоящие архитекторы-гиганты академического рисунка, композиции и креатива. Никаких дополнительных курсов именно по фотографии и модельному позированию я не проходила.

МК: Я считаю, что мир был бы лучше, если бы искусство можно было распространять и делать ремиксы более свободно. Однако, как создатель, может быть страшно отказаться от этого контроля. С очень бесплатной лицензией кто-то может использовать вашу работу или изображение таким образом, который вам не нравится или с которым вы не согласны. Вас это беспокоит? Как пройти мимо этого страха?

VB: Да, я встречала авторов на pixabay, которые очень ревностно защищают свои работы - не разрешают делать ремиксы или еще что-то. Я отношусь к этому намного проще. Наоборот, рада, когда используют мои рисунки и фото. Как избавиться от страха, что другие используют работы, наверное, представить, что всё равно все знают, что автор исходника источника именно ты. Нужна супер программа, специальная нейросеть, которая автоматически отслеживает все изменения первоисточника и указывает даты и всех авторов в цепочке. Плюс учитывает все площадки на интернет-просторах и если где-то работа продана, каждому авторы и автору ремикса делаются автоматические небольшие отчисления. Было бы здорово).

МК: Вы делитесь изображениями, на которые, должно быть, ушло много времени, работы и затрат, от грима и костюмов до редактирования фотографий и художественных работ. Это финансово сложное решение? Дают ли люди чаевые на Pixabay?

VB: По поводу ретуши и костюмов. По деньгам это не очень затратно, я стараюсь делать много фотографий дома, перепродавать старые костюмы и одежду. По времени, да, много отнимает. Но я делаю это для себя, вкладываю силы в свою личность. Поэтому и стараюсь. Пожертвования были до войны с Украиной, небольшие, примерно 70-100 долларов в месяц, но сейчас ничего нет.

МК: В вашем профиле указано, что вы живете в Москве. Что вы думаете об авторском праве в России? Например, в США компания Disney несколько раз успешно лоббировала в Конгрессе изменения законов об авторском праве, чтобы защитить свои ранние работы от перехода в общественное достояние. Это не защищает давно умерших создателей произведения, вместо этого оно дает больше власти крупным корпорациям. Я нахожу это очень разочаровывающим.

VB: Авторское право в России легко нарушить. Здесь мало обращают внимание на авторское право даже сами авторы. Потому что авторское право может защитить только автор. Можно гоняться за нарушителями по судам и портить себе нервы, а можно более спокойно к этому относится, создавать все время что-то новенькое и тебя будут знать как прекрасного автора. По поводу сложных законов в России. В России тоже такое возможно. Нужно пройти несколько этапов судов вплоть до конституционного суда, но из простых граждан до него добирались лишь единицы и влияли на законы. По поводу Disney, да, скорее всего это неправильно, когда они полностью завладели культовым персонажем и просто делают на этом деньги. Например, было бы здорово если Disney со своего бизнеса на определенном персонаже - развивал музей автора или издавал специальный журнал об своих авторах, или делал какие-то благотворительные акции в память автора персонажа. Для Disney это были бы копейки на затраты, но очень благородно и положительный пример для всего остального мира.

MK: Наше поколение выросло с появлением Интернета, и многие люди считают, что он имел много как положительных, так и отрицательных последствий. Как вы относитесь к интернету и социальным сетям?

VB: Я очень хорошо отношусь к Интернету и социальным сетям. Я еще застала то время, когда не было ни компьютера у меня, ни мобильного телефона, ни компьютера. Это были какие-то страшные времена. Я жалею об этом времени, оно словно потерянное. Интернет это очень хороший помощник в жизни - от банального почитать отзывы о врачах или курсах, до важного - развиваться как личность, обучаться, удобно и быстро перенимать опыт.

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