Stock Photographs

I can’t decide if I was more angry or more sad (I was both), as a few of the speakers at a talk I attended this morning spoke about “faking disability”. Something I didn’t know about until this morning’s talk, was that if you go through some “stock photograph” libraries, you can actually find groups of models alternating between standing up and being seated in a wheelchair. If you use a wheelchair, or you have an awareness, you can pick it straight away: sometimes by the way the person is sitting, or by the type of wheelchair they have, we were told.

I was at a talk held at Ted’s Cameras in Sydney, with a number of guest speakers talking about the trend towards greater authenticity in the photographs being submitted to image galleries, and being used in advertising.

A woman (whose name I can’t remember) who works for Getty Images (they make their income from selling images to advertisers, the media, and other organisations) told us there’s been significant change in the type of images being downloaded for use.

This slide shows the change in the most popular/downloaded images of women over the last decade or so. Up until 2014, the most popular image of a man was consistently of a solitary white man in a suit.
The first time EVER they had downloads at Getty for LGBTQ was in 2009. In 2010, there were no downloads. In more recent years, things have diversified somewhat, though the most common LGBTQ images remain, overwhelmingly good looking, white, middle class men.
.”What do you need to be involved?”, is a phrase Angel Dixon told us this morning is one which should be used. She spoke about her own experiences as a woman with a disability who has launched a career as a model. She noted there are some things which needed to be taken into account. But when you do, she said, you can end up with much better results.
Also speaking today was Catia Malaquias, founder of the organisation “Starting With Julius“. Ten years ago she had a child born with Down’s Syndrome. After a little while she noted none of the advertising she was seeing from major retail chains “looked like” her family. So she wrote to K-Mart. They replied, saying they were “ashamed”, invited her family to be involved in an advertising campaign, and things have expanded from there.

“Isn’t it the advertisers, not the photographers who need education about all of this?”, a man asked from the audience. In reply, Catia made the point “you can’t make a choice if you have nothing to choose from” (or similar words).

The audience was made up of many keen amateur and professional photographers, many who were contributors to a new image catalogue called “This Is Australia”, which is all about making available a more diverse range of images for advertising, media etc.

Though I didn’t contribute to the discussion, I know from my own work and life experiences there’s a strong “business case” for more diversity and inclusion in the media. If you don’t look and sound like your audience or customers, they’ll find an organisation which does. And much of the lead work being done is because of the increasing diversity of media workforces.

If you don’t look or sound like your audience, you’ll probably never notice the faking of wheelchair photographs.

“Nothing about us, without us” is a phrase I’ve heard a lot and which springs to mind.

I really enjoyed today’s talk. It was great.

2 Replies to “Stock Photographs”

  1. What a fascinating event to have attended. Last night on BBC1 a man presented a story on silo art. The camera unnecessarily focused on his lack of hands (look, we employ everyone) and it was distracting but good too.

  2. As a graphic designer, I’ve had to use stock photography a lot! It was always an issue finding “real” people in these collections. The This is Australia collection sounds good.

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