Diversity: Are Stock Agencies Showing What’s Needed?

Posted on 1/4/2017 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

A couple weeks ago, I was interviewed by an NPR writer for a story about stock photography. The first question out of the box was “Why aren’t the stock agencies doing a better job of showing diversity?” I wasn’t sure how to answer that question because I felt that for a long time photographers have been pushed to show more diversity and there must be a lot of such pictures in the stock agency collections. (Incidentally, it was a black woman writer asking the question.)

Then today, in a publication called Skyward I saw another story entitled “The Problem With Women in Stock Photography.”

Erin Ollila argues that there is a “hypersexualtion of women” who are working in male dominated fields. She was searching for “women in tech” and “women in sales” and argued that she couldn’t find appropriate images of women working in these jobs.

In addition, she also talked about the “lack of diversity” and said “every single woman I mentioned in my examples above were Caucasian.”

I’m not sure where these women were looking for pictures, but I decided to do a little research on my own. Here’s what I found after a few searches on iStock and Shutterstock.

  iStock Shutterstock
diversity, women, engineers 3,924 2,472
black, women, engineers 3,922 4,010
african american, woman, engineer 2,940 980
minority, women, engineers 2 298
Asian, women, engineers 2,677 4,870
women, engineers 27,913 59,967
diversity 1,070,616 486,153
minority, workers 581 3,540
women, tech, workers 19,015 6,795
women, auto repair, workers 2,515 1,848
Woman, scientist 27,515 42,358
woman, construction, worker 14,379 47,159
woman, mechanic 6,867 14,281
woman, pilot 3,309 7,442

Certainly, there are plenty of pictures on these subjects although many of them may not be that appropriate to illustrate the concept of people working in the field. In a number of shots the woman model didn’t look like she knew how to use the tools of the trade. It looked like she had been placed in a situation where she had never worked. In fact, in a few shots you could find the same woman, dressed in the same clothes, working in several unrelated jobs. If photographers are going to use models in this way they had better at least get someone to give the model a little instruction before they take the picture.

There were way more portraits of a woman smiling at the camera than ones looking like they were actually engaged in the task at hand.

It is hard to understand what “diversity” includes. Certainly, it is not always refer to minorities, or if it does the word “minority” is not included as a keyword. Often when diversity is used it is for a picture that includes people from a variety of different ethnic groups, but not necessarily a single actor that is not a Caucasian which may be what the customer is seeking. It is hard to know what other English language words might better narrow such a search to what the customer really wants.

There were also some very inappropriate pictures, high up in the search returns, that looked like the main purpose of the shot was to show off the woman’s body rather than have any relation whatsoever to the work the model was supposed to be engaged in. It is not surprising that women picture editors are offended by such images.


This raises a major point. In virtually every category these two agencies have plenty of images. But, no customer will ever have enough time to go through all the images being returned.
Thus, it is extremely important that the best, and most appropriate images come up in the first couple of pages. If only one out of ten, or maybe one out of twenty on those first pages is anything like what the customer is looking for then the general impression the customer is left with is “they don’t have what I want.” The more images added to the collections the higher the ratio of bad images to good ones.

If these agencies are trying to tell me that the images found on the first page of the search are best they have on the subject requested, I simply don’t believe them. Even on the iStock search for “minority, women, engineer” that produces only produces 2 images the first image shown sure looks like a Caucasian. Last I heard Caucasians were not considered minorities.

Curation is not a luxury. It is becoming more and more of a necessity. As databases are getting larger and larger customers are being turned off.

Copyright © 2017 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of www.selling-stock.com, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to: http://www.jimpickerell.com/Curriculum-Vitae.aspx.  


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