295 STONE'S EDITING PHILOSOPHY
March 31, 2000
In the following article UK writer Ian Buchanan analyses the psyche of Stone
in an interview with Stone creative director Andrew Saunders and art director Zoe
Whishaw. This article was first published in the British Journal of Photography .
The article is copyrighted by Ian Buchanan and reprinted with permission.
What's In A Name?
by: Ian Buchanan
When Zoe Whishaw stepped out in front of delegates at BJP's vision 2000 seminar on
stock photography at the end of January, she expected to shock them with the
images she was about to show. She wasn't disappointed.
The shock was not out of prurience, but at being confronted with images that
appeared at first sight to be naive and even technically inadequate.
However, in the course of her presentation she made clear that the images were in
fact consciously designed to meet the needs of clients buying at the top end of
the licensed imaging market.
Whishaw is an art director for Stone, formerly known as Tony Stone Images, and her
presentation set out to explain the philosophy and methodology behind the creation
of images that are to be found on it website, www.tonystone.com and in its
catalogues, most especially the recently released Quest collection. These topics
were further explored in an interview with Whishaw and Andrew Saunders, global
director of imagery for Getty One at the end of February.
For any useful understanding of Stone's philosophy, it's worthwhile taking into
account both the significance of the name change and the accepted use of language
within the company. Changing the name to Stone at the beginning of this year was
an important act in defining a distinctive brand image for the company. Stone, in
the words of its own publicity, is "part of Gettyone, the professional creative
channel of Getty Images." Gettyone provides imagery and related products to the
advertising, graphic design, web design and corporate communications industries.
Through its web site, www.gettyone.com, creative professionals can search,
purchase and download digital content. They can access high quality images from
Getty Images and third party brands, and purchase them on a single invoice.
In addition to Stone, Gettyone brands include well-recognised names such as
Allsport, Hulton Getty, PhotoDisc and The Image Bank. The Bridgeman Art Library
is among third party brands that would be immediately recognised by readers.
Getty Images offers a spectrum of choices from royalty-free digital, through
traditional stock, to Stone's licensed imagery. With such a wide choice of image
sources and buying options on offer, it made sense for Getty to clearly
differentiate between the different brands to help clients select the right image
package for each job in hand.
Central to Stone's branding is the recognition that it is selling licensed imagery
and not stock. In fact the very use of the word stock is becoming taboo within the
organisation because of the negative connotations it has in many peoples' minds.
So how does licensed imagery differ from stock? Stone's answer to that question is
that its licensed images aim to be an acceptable alternative to commissioned
photography and they are produced to the same exacting standards and by the same
creative process as agencies would use to plan and execute top advertising
campaigns. Stock on the other hand can be defined by the synonyms that any
reference to a thesaurus throws up: standard; commonplace; ordinary; usual.
Whishaw explains Stone's method of creating new imagery that meets these
objectives: "We have researchers in all our major offices around the world. They
gather information about demographic changes and identify the groups of people our
clients will be aiming campaigns at in future. The point is that we are trying to
anticipate how pictures will sell and in what kind of style. That's a creative
issue. Our researchers analyse a huge amount of information from a wide variety of
sources all over the world and funnel it into the art directors in the creative
department. Our analytical approach into what people want is, I think, unique.
That information filters through to us and we have regular brainstorming sessions
to develop picture ideas.
"These are usually based on forthcoming projects, which are themselves based on
the research coming in to us. We try to be progressive in the way we are thinking
up new images and not look back at what anybody else has done before.
"The brainstorming sessions are very intensive. We get together much as
advertising agencies do when they are thinking up new campaigns. They are as
free-thinking as possible and full of imaginative, even crazy ideas sometimes. We
discuss them and distil them and try to put them into a meaningful still image
that has an opportunity for sales. The sessions are about creating new ideas for
content as well as new ways of shooting those pictures: the style and treatment
and how we are going to get there visually."
In brainstorming these ideas, Whishaw stresses that the needs of
its client base of advertising agencies and designers is always kept firmly in
"We are looking to produce pictures that have very strong concepts in them and
have strong emotional content, rather than being descriptive, per se. We want to
have pictures that have multiple opportunities and command very good, high
prices," she says. "The next stage is communicating to the particular
photographers we feel appropriate to tackle the ideas. Among the stable of
photographers each art director has, not every one is necessarily able to take
those pictures on in the way that we have been discussing them in the
brainstorming sessions. Of course, a lot are and we spend time talking through
the ideas with them: why we have the idea and where we feel the opportunities are
"It's very important that the photographer is on board and knows why we are moving
the imagery in that direction and what it is about those pictures that gives us
confidence in putting them together, because they may be slightly 'way out' in one
way or another. They have to have confidence that any risk has been eliminated by
all the creative research we have done."
Andrew Saunders says: "The reason for the process is that we have realised that
speculative submissions from photographers are not going to take us forward. In
fact we accept probably only 10% or less of what comes in unbidden from
photographers. Last year about 60% of images that came in were art directed
actually on the shoot. Most of the remainder would be images that were art
directed at arms length. The idea is to compete with commissioned photography and
if you don't have the quality of art direction, quality of editing and quality of
ideas, then you will lose out every time.
"That was the problem in years gone by and is exactly what we
are trying to overcome now. We want to be seen as the viable alternative to
commissioned photography, that's the piece of ground we have staked out and that's
what we are gearing up the creative teams and our marketing to approach."
He says: "Advertising and design agencies would traditionally look at stock
photography as the last option. That's something we have to get away from. You
can't be seen as the last option, you really have to be seen as a partner in
creativity. You have to be viewed as a place where intelligent thought about
imagery actually happens. That's one of our objectives."
This method of working raises the question that the photographers' role is of
secondary importance, as they become involved only after the ideas have been
thrashed out. But Saunders denies this. He says: "The creative input of
photographers isn't diminishing. We are attracted to the photographers we want to
work with because they have something to offer. It's most certainly a partnership,
because we can have as many ideas or conceptual roads we want to run down as we
like, but unless we have contributors who are capable of capturing that on film we
are lost. If you speak to any of the photographers we are working with
intensively, then you'll see that we feed off each other. The other thing is that
stock agencies never really had the quality of art direction we have now. A lot of
the time, the credibility of ideas was in question, rightly so, by photographers.
Now if you want to compete, the art direction has to be as good as that you would
get from an ad agency."
To get an idea of what Stone wants go to the TSI "Twist," and "Interpretations"
catalogs as well as some of their more recent offerings. Zoe says they want
images that are conceptually strong, with an emphasis on capturing moods and
emotions that are capable of broad interpretation. The aim is that although they
depict particular situations, the emotions they evoke are applicable in many
different contexts, which may be completely unrelated or even counter to the
picture's specific content.
But there is a note of caution to add as Saunders points out: "One of the
pitfalls, particularly for photographers who have been in stock for years is that
they develop a knee-jerk reaction to good sales and what you end up seeing is the
same thing coming across the lightbox."
For him, the danger in showing examples of commercially successful work is that he
risks being inundated with submissions of virtually identical images. He
attributes this desire to do more of the same partly as an understandable reaction
to good sales, but also to lack of imagination. "Unless they are willing to take
ideas forward, it's not going to increase sales, the agency is not going to
increase its elbow power and the market for that photographer will not expand. We
always tell them to rework the concept in original ways, not the image."