Tired of the Same Boring White People Illustrating Your Blog?
Tea Silvestre Godfrey needed a picture of a female sailor for her business’s blog. But when the longtime marketer searched for an appropriate photo through her stock image service, which instantly provides generic photos for a tiny fraction of the price of setting up a photo shoot, her heart sank.
“All I could come up with were these pin-up-type pictures,” she said in a phone interview. She was hoping for something more realistic, like a woman actually sailing a boat, not just posing on it. Perhaps in attire other than short-shorts and a halter top. “We [the U.S.] have women in the Navy,” Godfrey observed archly.
Godfrey’s experience happened this past August, but in the course of writing this article, I searched our own stock image account for “woman sailor.” Excluding the first image, which just featured a manicured hand with tiny anchors painted on the nails, this is what turned up:
Next came this image, in which a woman steers apparently the only watercraft she’s qualified to captain:
Then this photo:
Godfrey’s next step was very relatable: “I ranted about it in social media.” But after seeing the commiserating response from her circles, which include many other writers and marketers, she decided to do something about it.
Godfrey is currently marshalling support to launch WE Stock United, an online marketplace of diverse images she hopes will add an array of options to the millions who rely on microstock image sites. Every day there are millions of articles and blogs being posted by independent business owners and writers—“my people,” as Godfrey calls them—and they surely would appreciate more visual options than thin, white, young, able-bodied individuals.
As someone who uses stock imagery frequently, I can personally understand the demand. Just last week I needed an image of “happy newlyweds.” The cheerful brides and grooms (and, credit where it’s due, one photo of a groom and groom) were all white. So I narrowed my search to “African-American newlyweds.” My results were simply bizarre: more than 20 white couples, two interracial couples, one pair of French bulldogs in formal doggie attire, and three black couples. Of the three, two of the brides were visibly pregnant, and one wasn’t even wearing wedding attire. Thankfully there was one charming photo that perfectly fit the bill.
Not that there’s anything wrong with pregnant brides, but, really? As with Godfrey’s difficulties finding a woman sailor actually sailing in something other than a bra and a captain’s hat, women and minorities face not only a problem in getting represented, but in the depictions themselves. I noticed this recently trying to search for an image of a couple paying their bills. The white couples looked happy or pensive. The one couple of color appeared to be arguing.
Stacia Synnestvedt, a friend of Godfrey’s who owns a family community center in Lafayette, Colorado, has similar troubles. “I … am often looking for racially diverse family/children/pregnancy photos because we live in a somewhat culturally diverse area—there’s a strong Latino presence here,” wrote Synnestvedt in an email. “It is super challenging to find photos that are reflective of our community. The photos that I do find on occasion are usually of African Americans, or occasionally Asian which aren’t our main [demographic]. … I also wish I could find more photos representing gay families.” Synnestvedt is also troubled by the few stock photos of Latino families she is able to source. The subjects appear either posh and well-off or disheveled and poor, with very few reflecting what a regular family looks like in Synnestvedt’s area.
There are some efforts underway to address the lack of diversity in stock images. Colorstock was founded in 2015 by a PR professional in North Carolina sick of the fruitless search for authentic stock images of people of color. Founder Jenifer Daniels curates photographs contributed by more than 20 diverse photographers around the country. Images start at $10. Getty Images’ Lean In collection, which highlights women working and men caregiving, is more than a year old. A low-res photo runs about $50. Diverse Stock Photos, a site that Godfrey has already approached to work with WE Stock United, licenses photos of full-figured models of many ages and ethnicities, starting at $5 each.
While these prices may sound low, if you’re publishing regularly and on a thin margin, even $10 a photo adds up fast. Thus microstock sites like Shutterstock and iStock are the image resource of choice for many bloggers and media companies.
Godfrey hopes WE Stock United will combine the cost effectiveness of those microstock sites with a wide selection of photos of people of all shapes, ages, gender identifications, races, and ethnic backgrounds. In early 2017, she’ll launch a Kickstarter to raise $50,000 to fund startup costs and the first 10,000 images.
To achieve that daunting goal, Godfrey plans to partner with several small stock photo sites already working toward similar missions, like Diverse Stock Photos, to bring each of their specialties under one curated, virtual roof. “This is an effort that’s going to take a village,” says Godfrey, who describes the project as a “collaborative social enterprise.”
WE Stock United will also partner directly with photographers and pay them at least twice the going rate of other microstock sites. And, to more fully realize a diverse, inclusive world, Godfrey wants WE Stock United to be a vehicle for donating to organizations that fight discrimination.
Earlier this month, Liberian-born model Deddeh Howard rocked the internet with her “Black Mirror” project, in which she recreated famous (and all-white) ad campaigns. “More equal visibility of all races, being it white, black, Asian, Latino etc would help all of us believing in our potential,” she wrote. Sites like WE Stock United hope to bring that concept to millions of Main Street businesses and personal bloggers, too.