In recent years, the quality of stock photography, its sophistication and relevance has improved dramatically, to an extent that a lot of the lazy assumptions about stock now seem misplaced.
However, for the determined seeker, it is still possible to mine the archives for the weird, wonderful and ‘what on earth were they thinking?’.
Andy Kelly is a journalist, mainly covering videogames. He writes for PC Gamer full-time but his work also features in Vice, The Guardian, Kotaku, and Edge. In June 2017 he set up the Twitter feed @darkstockphotos featuring some of the “most baffling, disturbing” photography available to buy or licence.
“I’ve always found stock photos funny,” Kelly says. “There’s a comical artifice to them, and I love how utterly blunt they are. A few years ago I found a photo illustrating seasonal depression. The image they chose to evoke this serious issue? A guy sitting in front of a Christmas tree clutching a gun and a bottle of whisky. It was this image that inspired me to start searching these websites for the worst images possible. And I was amazed by how much baffling, disturbing stuff is out there.”
Kelly highlights his favourites on Twitter, where he has built up 158,000 followers. “There’s no real art to finding the images. I just type certain keywords into stock photo sites (knife, gun, crime, death) that probably make my internet history look highly dubious,” he says. “But there is (believe it or not) a high level of curation involved. Some of the photos I find are just plain horrible. So I make sure I only post things that are straight up funny, or so absurd/bewildering that they’re accidentally funny. I’m spoiled for choice!”
Recurring themes include people holding guns and/or knives, people drinking from unbranded bottles of booze in various inappropriate situations, whether it’s driving or holding a child and “guys in balaclavas doing pretty much anything, whether it’s pointing a knife at an old lady or stealing someone’s handbag”.
Kelly’s personal favourite, “without a doubt, is what Shutterstock describes as ‘Crying Boy With Gun On Coast’ [above]. It’s an utterly baffling image, and so, so dark. Why is this boy crying? Who did he just shoot with that gun? So many questions.”
Kelly says that, so far, no-one from the stock photography industry has contacted him about the feed but “I did receive an email from someone at Shutterstock asking if I’d like to learn more about the industry, which I may take them up on. If only to understand WHY.”