Business Tip for Culture Makers #1220: A Culture Making Approach to Stock Photos
Images are an essential business resource and they have culture-making power.
For a long time, I knew that but I didn’t know how to herd that set of kittens.
So I avoided images altogether.
I knew what I didn’t want to do — perpetuate the mandatory pretty that’s a form of internalized misogyny AND perpetuate the whitewashing and homogenizing of our culture — but I didn’t know what to do instead.
Stock photo banks didn’t much help. If you search “business woman”, for example, you get a slew of images of pretty white women in pencil skirts.
There wasn’t a lot of visual diversity, in ethnicity, in body shapes, in age, in gender presentation, in ability…
And I saw that playing out in the brands of Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brands and in the my peers.
People I respected a lot would put out empowerment images of ‘goddesses’…and time after time, image after image, those goddesses appeared to be 100lb, 20 year old white women in bikini tops and flowing skirts on a beach.
This didn’t feel terribly empowering to me. It felt pretty exclusive.
It felt like an affirmation of the sexist, racist status quo.
I believe that’s *not* what most of the culture makers I know are intending to do with our images or our work.
But we have to attend to the cultural consequences of those images rather than justify them with our intentions.
I’m not sure using stock images of professionally pretty young women or sanitized lifestyle shots is good for business, either.
How do we distinguish our work around female power or women & work (or, or, or) if we’re all using images of professional models in sheath dressses gazing into a phone or professional model goddesses in power poses on beaches?
I digress. (Not really.)
My point: there ARE image banks and collections that can help culture-making entrepreneurs find images that stand out; truly represent them and their clients; announce their work in the world; AND advance our culture-making objectives.
Here are a few to check out:
And also check out this post that has a seriously comprehensive list of inclusive stock photo banks and collections:
ONE MORE THING:
I now need to nuance and complicate this marketing tip, so in this paragraph I’m specifically talking to entrepreneurs with dominant identities. (As as a white, cis, straight woman, I’m including myself here.) Diversifying the imagery in our businesses is one step. It’s not the entire job of dismantling systemic racism/sexism/heterosexism/transphobia/ableism/ageism. We have to build our analyses and become more culturally fluent. If people with dominant identities attract people into their businesses but don’t understand their experiences and are not equipped to support them, they can do harm. (h/t Melissa Toler; you can find her here.) And if we create marketing campaigns that look and sound progressive, but don’t change our internal practices, then it’s just window dressing, not substantive change. So yes, definitely, let’s change our imagery. But more importantly, let’s make sure we question and change our business practices so that the images we use align with how our companies and platforms actually function.