Stock images hold an unusual but outsized importance in our culture. For the unfamiliar, these are the pre-shot photos catalogued with generic names like "woman at work" and "man out on a date" that media, teachers, and even corporations pull to illustrate their materials. To generalize—stock images are cheesy as hell, frequently white-washed, and often the wallpaper we forget but our subconscious retains. They also have the ability to shape visual representation of what constitutes as "normal" in our culture, turning the previously taboo, like interracial dating and gay marriage, into the "acceptable."
For these reasons it's remarkable that Getty Images, the popular stock image agency—and full disclosure, a photo-licensing service Fusion utilizes—recently expanded its portfolio to include photo collections featuring gender non-conforming straight, queer, and trans women, as well as powerful #girlbosses and dads embracing traditionally female gender roles. The firm even produced a film dedicated to gender fluidity. In this context, the stock images aren't just groundbreaking—they're beautiful.
The woman responsible for this new thrust in stock image inclusivity is Pam Grossman, Getty’s Director of Visual Trends. Despite the buzz-wordy title, Grossman has a very concrete and vital job spotting larger trends within our cultural landscape and commissioning photo collections that reflect both broader society and user demands. “The idea of us starting to delve into things like gender, and a representation of gender, was very meaningful. As a company, we believe that inclusivity is paramount, and it should be paramount. It’s also, frankly, the way that the world is going and we have data that supports this.”
In 2014, Grossman’s team identified what Getty has since coined Genderblend, “an evolution of gender identity and a celebration of gender fluidity.” In response, the company commissioned a series of images that explore everything from female metal workers to gay dads to drag subculture. Interestingly, in the 12 months since the project first launched, Getty also saw the search term "transgender" increase by 472% on gettyimages.com, leading Grossman and her team to believe they were on the right path.
“We have myriad examples of gender evolving,” she told me. “In pop culture, in demographics, in advertising and brands. So it’s both the right thing to do—which is wonderful!—but it’s also good business.”
In order to get data and ideas for projects like these, Grossman employs a trends-spotting team that processes raw cultural detritus, from popular films to social media posts. From there, they identify cultural tipping points and create the perfect corresponding image. This happens through what Grossman describes as a process that’s part quantitative (numbers crunching) and part human-led cultural Richter scale. With unfettered access to customer search keywords, she’s been able to see the popularity of words and phrases' rise and fall, where demands are centered, and “drill down in a pretty granular way and see not only what’s selling, but what are [the most popular] trends per certain topic.” For example, which niche aspects of gender users are more regularly seeking.
Before Genderblend, Getty was focused on "female empowerment"—after related keywords increased 722% on gettyimages.com in one year. It also noticed that searches for "gender equality" had multiplied by five times over three years (2012 to 2015). This trend led to a collaboration with Sheryl Sandberg's LeanIn.org and the roll out of its 2014 Lean In Collection —their all-time most popular series in which the company portrays “women being redefined” through non-stereotypical vocations, activities, and dress. “This was an idea that was spotlighting women as the heroes or the heroine of their own story rather then them always being objectified or ancillary,” explained Grossman.
Interestingly, Getty’s research has shown that users are not just hungry for more diverse subjects, both in terms of gender and race, but also more personal and unique styles of photography. Think more Instagram and less women laughing alone with a salad.
When asked what the coming year might bring, Grossman had a few guesses. “I would say 2016 is the year of inclusivity—because I don’t think it’s only about gender,” she said. “It’s about celebrating interracial families and seeing people of different abilities and body types. Gender is certainly powerful, but I think this year it’s about becoming more accepting and more celebratory of each other’s differences, and focusing on the great universals connecting us all.”
Laura Feinstein is the Head of Social Stories at Fusion. Formerly, she held staff roles as the East Coast Editor of GOOD Magazine and the EIC of The Creators Project at VICE, and has contributed to The Guardian, T/The New York Times, Paper Magazine and many others. She specializes in the niche, the esoteric and the un-boring.