44 stock photos that I don’t know how to react to

by M

This is The Setback Post’s first ever off-topic post. Depending on the reaction, it may or may not be its last. If you’d rather read about cycling, I recommend some Luxembourgish CX or a bit of winter angst.

women-stock-photosImage: Getty/Facebook

A Buzzfeed link is doing the rounds of social media at the moment, featuring samples from image-giant Getty’s “Lean In Collection”, which purports to include “more than 2,500 photos of female leadership in contemporary work and life”:

The project began when Pam Grossman, director of visual trends at Getty Images, commissioned a study that would track the changes in the representation of girls and women in the media.


“This is such a big passion project for all of us, and cheesy as it sounds, by showing people powerful images of women, we thought maybe we could actually change the world,” Grossman told BuzzFeed.

Whilst I applaud the underlying intention, I’m struggling slightly with the idea of stock photography as a medium for social change. Getty is, after all, one of the world’s largest purveyors of women laughing alone with salad, not to mention any number of gender role-reinforcing scenarios.

And that’s kind of the point of stock photography; it’s not inherently evil, but it exists to supply a cosy, bland visual language to companies and content producers who want familiar, unchallenging tropes to illustrate their websites and articles. It’s the reason you can safely look for a hot woman wearing a headset* if you want customer service, and why university campuses everywhere are littered with the bodies of students who died of exposure from working outside:

students-on-grass1024Image: Google

Getty would probably argue their project acts to normalise the idea of women in non-traditional roles, but to me the act of using stock photography is itself one of tokenism.

Rather than buying an image of a Lean In woman for your corporate website, wouldn’t it make more sense to take photographs of actual female members of your workforce? And if you don’t have any, maybe you should be asking why, rather than using staged photos of strangers as window dressing.

*To keep things bike related and also undermine this post completely, I asked fellow blogger Jack Luke of mycountry.cc to ’shop a headset of the more familiar kind onto a lady for comedic purposes. The result was this decidedly un-feminist and mildy NSFW image. You’re welcome/I’m sorry.