The world of stock images — those pictures that magazine editors and online writers and editors pair with articles — are sometimes weird; and for good reason. They don't look much like the world around us. In their defense, it's a bit tricky. Just think about how you would try to illustrate, visually, the idea of upward mobility, or working women or resilience. But anyone who works in media (and plenty of readers and watchers) have noticed a strange lack of diversity in these photographs, especially of women (And yes, the stock photo industry also thinks that the U.S. is 99 percent Caucasian and young too, because there's nearly as much non-white-people imagery, or shots of people over the age of 30 — unless you search those categories specifically, of course).
The conventional wisdom of publishing on the Web means that most stories need an image to go with them. That's because they not only look better, but they are more likely to get more clicks. Most of the time, those images come from stock image photohouses. Despite the millions of images on these sites, they are limited. No matter how hard you try, especially in certain categories, you just get the same type of image over and over again.
And since stock pictures like these are the majority of images you see in media, it's not a far leap to suggest that stock images are part of visual language — one that's very limited and homogenous. Just check out women laughing alone with salad, which is a popularly made-fun-of image in stock photography because it comes up when you search anything from "women's health" to "vegetarianism" to just "women."
“One of the quickest ways to make people think differently about something is to change the visuals around it,” Cindy Gallop, who started the United States' branch of advertising agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty, told the New York Times. “The thing about these images is they work on an unconscious level to reinforce what people think people should be like.”
For example, if you search "working man," you get a variety of men doing a variety of things — building stuff (construction workers), drilling metal, directing people, managing a factory, farming, fixing things (plumbers and electricians), as well as men in suits — business guys. But "working women" gets a bunch of women at laptops, a few in suits, and several images of moms with babies looking stressed at the top of the results. There's one picture of a female doctor, but none of nurses, artists, mail carriers, teachers or other jobs that women do in great preponderance. (I understand the page is not going to be flooded with women construction workers, though that would be nice to see as an option.) Needless to say, there aren't any pictures of men with children or babies when you search "working man" at all. (For more, and more specific examples, check out this article that digs deeper into this issue.)
In an increasingly image-dominated world, photos matter, so a proactive move to change these images was born. The nonprofit offshoot of Facebook executive Sheryl Sandburg's bestselling book, "Lean In," LeanIn.org, announced a partnership with Getty Images to provide more diverse (not to mention interesting) images of women and girls on the site. They are available on a special page at Getty, but the images are also mixed in with the rest of the images and could pop up anywhere.
A quick look through the pictures and I'm inspired; women with wrinkles (not salad) laughing; a nonwhite grandmother and granddaughter; little girls doing karate; women lifting weights; dads and daughters (always strangely absent when you search for parents); women working — teaching, giving presentations, baking, working in factories, and farming — you know, the stuff that women do in real life that in 2014, means that 40 percent of American families have a woman as the sole or primary breadwinner.
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