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This is Not Porn has been digging up rare celebrity photos and debunking fakes for seven years

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It’s not porn, but it’s good

Photo: This is Not Porn

Patrik Karlsson, a 33-year-old ad designer living in rural Sweden, has been running the tiny but beloved site This is Not Porn for more than seven years. The site has a simple premise — it’s uh, not porn. It’s a collection of candid celebrity photos, all vintage, and all obscure enough to make the site a veritable goldmine for anyone who wishes they had the personal time to sift through Tumblr, hit the web’s many open photo troves in earnest, or work their way through every Turner classic movie.

Karlsson doesn’t do much with the photos he posts. He just shares things he takes a liking to, with as much context as he can find. Sometimes that means a photographer and a location, sometimes just a date, sometimes just the name that already obviously goes with the famous face. The celebrities are mainstream — there are lots of shots of Harrison Ford, Clint Eastwood, Roger Moore, and other mostly white, male standard-bearers for classic cinema — but the photos are as niche as they come.

It’s nothing more than a sweet pet project, with a paltry 28,000 followers on Twitter. (Fan accounts for individual celebrities like Rihanna or Harry Styles often have hundreds of thousands.) But it’s the best place on the web for people interested in seeing some of the moments around the edges of pop culture classics. One of my recent favorites, for example: the teen actors of the original Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) crowd around Robert Englund, kissing him on the cheek as he relaxes on set. He’s listening to an enormous Walkman in full Freddy Kreuger makeup, and he barely looks up. It’s not porn, but it’s good! I recently chatted with Karlsson about the anniversary, how celebrity micro-blogging has changed since he started This is Not Porn, and why he kept that confusing domain name.

Christopher Walken and Roger Moore on the set of A View to Kill (1985).
Photo: Patrick Zachmann / This is Not Porn

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Where did the idea for the site come from? Can you explain the name?

It all started back in 2010. I had dropped out of college, and I was feeling a bit down and lost. I needed some projects to take my mind off things and keep me busy. I've always liked creating stuff for the internet, so I started a couple of blogs, among them This Is Not Porn. The intention from the start was to post photos that I found sexy, but that weren't actually porn, no nudity or anything like that. So that was what I posted for the first month or so. Then I stumbled upon some old celebrity photos that I found fascinating and beautiful. [I] thought it would be much more fun to dedicate the blog to rare and funny celebrity photos, since that was a more unique niche.

I still think these photos are quite sexy in their own way, and they are definitely not porn, so the name still applies. But keeping the name was probably a poor choice in some ways. Many people are skeptical, and don't want to click on a link that has porn in it. I've heard that the site is blocked by firewalls at workplaces and schools. I have had people tell me I should change the name, but I haven't got any suggestions for what to change it to. I can understand that people get suspicious when they see the URL. They think it will be porn. So I'm working uphill, but I like the name, so I will stick with it.

Ironically enough, the most used search term to find my site is “porn,” so those people will instead be disappointed.

Where do you find the photos?

Everywhere. The internet is huge, and you can find anything on it. But I also go through magazines, books, and documentaries. Sometimes I get photos sent to me from my followers. I always try to credit the photographer, but many times it's impossible to find the info. If a photographer wants their photo removed, I delete it immediately. I'm not trying to take credit for the photos. I want to share them with more people and archive them for the future.

How do you research and maintain the part of the site where you debunk fake celebrity photos?

With the common sense that I wish more people had in today's social media society. There are too many fake photos and fake news going viral. People need to think before they share or retweet. The photos I've debunked on my site are photos I often see in my feeds, and they often get lots of attention, since people want to believe. When I see something that doesn't seem right or [seems] too good to be true, I try to find the non-Photoshopped original, or try to find the source of the photo to debunk the incorrect caption. It's usually not that hard.

How much time does the website take, and how do you fit it into your schedule?

I work at a smaller company making ads for newspapers and magazines, therefore I don't have as much time as I did before. But the site is my baby and my longest living web project, so I try to put in at least one hour a day, and since I live in a very, very small village in Sweden, I don’t have that much else to do.

I don't really have a daily process. I just look for photos and post them when I find them.

Carrie Fisher.
Photo: This is Not Porn

How do you decide what celebrities to feature? Are they based on personal interest? Follower interest?

I try to keep a wide range so there will be something for everybody. Mostly it's people I like or just find interesting, but there are a few exceptions. I have a rule to not post photos from after 2000, but I've broken that a few times. I grew up in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s, so photos from that era are extra nostalgic and fun to me. Anything from movies like Ghostbusters, Star Wars, and Indiana Jones has a special place in my heart. Sometimes I ask my followers what specific celebrities they want to see, and then I go pic-hunting based on their replies.

Which celebrities get the most engagement from followers?

The sad thing is that the most engagement and interest to my site comes when someone dies.

How did you develop your following? Did you do any paid promotion?

I've never done any paid promotions, it has just grown organically. Back in 2011, I got linked on Reddit, and it ended up on the front page. So then everything blew up for a while. But nowadays, I don't have that many views at all. I can't compete with viral sites that copy my 50 most recent photos and name it "50 super-rare crazy celebrity photos that will blow your mind. You won't believe #36." They get thousands of likes and shares. I don't own the photos, so I don't do anything about it. But the followers I have are what keep me going, and I'm very thankful for them.

You're crowdfunding the site to keep it going. How is that going?

I've probably put more than 3,000 hours into this project, and I just wanted to give the people a chance to contribute if they felt that I've entertained them through the years. I'm not asking for much, just enough to pay for the web hosting. Since I know lots of people use ad-blockers, this is a good alternative. We've reached 51 percent of our goal, so at least some people think it's worth donating a dollar to.

You can see the donations for 2017 here. So far it’s 21 people, with an average donation of $5 to $10.

Why do people love obscure photos of celebrities?

Celebrities have always fascinated people, I think, and it's fun to see that they are just people, too, goofing around and acting silly. I hate all the paparazzi stuff you see today. I would rather see photos with heart and soul and genuine smiles. I'm kind of nostalgic, and these old photos make me happy, so that's why I collect them and want to share them with others.