Women not laughing or eating salad

Is the portrayal of women in stock photography finally moving away from outdated clichés? Sales of Getty’s Lean In collection suggest that some positive change may be under way

Is the portrayal of women in stock photography finally moving away from outdated clichés? Sales of Getty’s Lean In collection suggest that some positive change may be under way.

The image above (by Peter Cade) is the top selling photograph in China from Getty Images’ Lean In collection. As we reported in our April issue, the Lean In collection is a collaboration with Facebook COO and Lean In founder Sheryl Sandberg to create a body of images that offer alternative portrayals of women to the vapid pictures satirised on sites such as Women Laughing Eating Salad.

At a Cannes Lions session last week, Sandberg and Getty CEO Jonathan Klein revealed some of the top sellers from the collection around the world. Of the Chinese image, Pam Grossman, Director of Visual Trends at Getty Images, told CNN that “We believe that showing more pictures of females with technical skills can help play a part in normalizing these images and promoting them in real life.”

The top UK seller from the range is this image – older women, typically under-represented in stock photography and the media generally, feature heavily in the collection


The top seller in Italy is perhaps a little more familiar. However, Grossman’s take on it is that “It’s so important that we show female athletes in imagery. They’re fantastic role models for one thing, and an image like this communicates such power, agility, and strength. This woman is anything but passive.”


While this was the best selling Lean In image from South Africa


And this from both Brazil and France


These images are, of course, from a collection that has been specifically put together to address problems with the portrayal of women. However, wider Getty sales trends also indicate shifting perceptions.

‘Woman’ is the most popular Getty search term. In 2007, the best-selling ‘woman’ image [below, by Stephan Hoeck] was of a semi-naked woman lying prostrate on a bed. In 2012, the best-seller was of a woman riding on a train, apparently looking for adventure


“While in 2007 Getty Images’ most popular image of a woman shows her naked, passive and objectified, only five years later we see an attractive yet authentic, active woman who’s pictured on a journey [above, by Roy Mehta]. She has drive and ambition,” Getty told CR. The top selling image of 2013 [shown here] features a woman on her tablet in the evening. “We can barely see her face – her appearance is not important to the shot at all. What’s important is what she’s actually doing – that is, using technology to work, connect and to socialise – like so many women do, as they are really driving social media.”





While it may be too early to herald a wholesale shift in atttitudes, Getty’s sales offer the hope that things are changing and that promoting alternative images can drive that change.

It’s easy to poke fun at stock imagery but the fact that so many clichéd pictures still appear in our media means that people (many of whom are CR readers) must be buying them. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t see them. The photolibrary business is driven by customer demand. We get the stock photography we deserve.

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