The Human Side of Spam

Spanish photographer Christina de Middel smudges fact and fiction with her staged images of Russian widows and Nigerian lawyers in distress.

When Spanish photographer and artist Cristina de Middel grew disillusioned with her work as a photojournalist—feeling that the media was too focused on pairing spectacular images and headlines rather than telling nuanced true stories—she went searching for inspiration in a peculiar place, her inbox. What emerged was “Poly-Spam,” a photo series of de Middel’s spam emails brought to life.

Over the course of six months, she painstakingly staged and ‘recreated’ a handful of pleas for help from fictitious strangers in a multitude of dire straits. There’s the Russian widow trying to keep her deceased husband’s fortune from his greedy, ill-intentioned family, the Nigerian lawyer desperate to split a dead former client’s massive deposit with whomever will play along as next of kin, and Grace, a young English woman recruiting a husband in order to claim her inheritance so she can pay her university fees.

Dear Sir / Madam

My name is Barrister Fagbemi Lateef i am a solicitor at law.I am the personal attorney to the Late Mr.Matthew,(Chief Executive Officer)of BIOOIL OIL SERVICING LTD,who till his untimely death was a contractor with Texaco Nigeria in port Harcourt,Nigeria.Whom here in after shall bereferred to as my client. On the 21st of April 2005, my client, his wife and their two children were involved in a car accident along sagbama express road. All occupants of the vehicle unfortunately lost their lives. Since then I have made several enquiries to your embassy to locate any of my clients extended relatives,this has also proved unsuccessful.

After these several unsuccessful attempts, I decided to track his last name over the Internet, to locate any member of his family hence I contacted you. I have contacted you to assist in repatriating the money and properties left behind by my client before they get confiscated or declared unserviceable by the bank where this huge deposit were lodged.

Particularly, The African Development Bank Group Plc, where the deceased had a deposit valued at about US$3.5 Million has issued me a notice to provide the next-of-kin or have the account confiscated within the 6 weeks.Since I have been unsuccessful in locating the relatives for over 2 years now,I seek your consent to present you as the next of kin of the deceased to have the same last name so that the proceeds of this account valued at US$3.5 Million can be paid to you and then you and I can share the money. 50% to me and 45% to you then 5% for expenses. I have all necessary legal documents that can be used to backup any claim we may make.

All I require is your honest cooperation to enable us see this deal through.I guarantee that this will be executed under a legitimate arrangement that will protect you from any breach of the law. Please get in touch with me immediately as I do not have much time in my disposal.

Thank you in advance for your anticipated co-operation.

Best Regards, Barrister Fagbemi Lateef

The results beautifully smudge the distinction between fact and fiction—realistic, somber portrayals of the imagined despairing souls behind these typo-ridden letters. By putting faces to these spammers, fabricated as they may be, de Middel pushes the viewer to consider the balance between truth and lie. In her artist’s statement, she describes the series as “a tale adapted to the dreams and frustrations of modern times,” considering the way in which we consume images and information with each “deliciously written lie” she trains her lens on.

Good Day Sir,

Am sorry to bore you with my mail. But I want you to understand that I truly need your assistance. My name is Grace Smith, I am 24 years old from England,I school and work as a tailor. I am the only daughter of my parents. My father died in a fatal motor accident on 6th March 2001,My sick mother who was suffering from cancer died not too long after she heard of the death of my father in the hospital.

My father,had willed part of his Real Estate and the total amounts of Ј5,000,000.00 to me. Now at his death, and because things have become very hard for me paying my school fees and taking care of my other needs with the tailoring job I do a sa part time after my school couldn't help, so, I went to our Bank where this money was deposited.

The Bank Manager explained to me that I will not be able to draw from the money, because my father had put a clause on the will, saying that before I will be given access to the money, I will either have to be 30 years old or above, or if I get married before the age of 30,in which case, my husband will be legible to collect the money on my behalf.

If I can trust you, I will want you to stand in as my husband even if you are married to claim this money on my behalf as I will provide all necessary documentation and

a marriage certificate between you and I to show the Bank that we're legally married before the British High Court here in United Kingdom.

I am writing you this email purely on the ground of trust. While this transaction last, we must put emotions aside and face it, perhaps after everything, we might find a need for that if you are still single. Waiting to hear from you soon.

Yours Truly, Grace Smith

Photos courtesy Cristina de Middel