If a face can launch a thousand ships, then a facial expression can at least go viral on the internet. This is what happened when the photographs of Harold, a nickname given to a senior stock photography model, were put up on Facepunch by a user called Greenen72 in 2011 from the stock photo and royalty-free image website, Dreamstime.
It was the old man’s facial expression that caught instant attention. The face appears to portray suppressed pain or discomfort or both. So originated the ‘Hide the Pain Harold’ Facebook page in 2011, in which several images of Harold were posted. By November 2017, the page had garnered over 9,900 likes. Another similar Facebook page, called Maurice, also appeared in 2014. It became more popular and by March 2016, it had collected over 20,400 likes.
However, it was a 4chan user, who created a thread using the stock photos from Hide the Pain Harold that featured a fictional story of the lives of Harold and his wife, which revolved around an unhappy old man working as a stock photography model.
Another Imgur user, SomeShitbag, created a similar story that featured some quotes from the 4chan thread and posted it to Imgur’s ‘gallery’. It soon went viral and collected a whopping over 880,000 views in a short span of three weeks! The story evolved further, when a YouTube user, ChinnyxD, uploaded the story, narrated through text-to-speech. It culminated in the creation of a subreddit community for stock images.
So, who was this old man called Harold? He was identified as András Arató, a resident of Kőszeg, Hungary, who revealed himself on the Russian language social network VK. Many others revealed his identities, such as Redditor The_Shreckoning on Reddit, YouTuber Gigatless on a Hungarian television game show, and hidyourpain YouTube channel that uploaded footage of Arató identifying himself.
Harold was even identified by a YouTuber smillmf, who uploaded a short documentary video showing Arató visiting Manchester England to watch a football game. The video received recognition through articles in BoingBoing and Manchester Evening News.
The ultimate revelation came when Arató himself discussed his life as a ‘meme-hero’ in a Tedx Talk in Kyiv, Ukraine. He turned out to be an electrical engineer in Ukraine. He was photographed while he was vacationing in Turkey. When his photograph was uploaded on Facebook, he was invited by a professional photographer to become a model. It was a happy union and today, they both produce hundreds stock photographs featuring Harold.