Chances are, you've unknowingly looked at more than one stock photo today. And chances are, you didn't notice because it was something ubiquitous and kind of dumb like a smiling baby in a car seat or woman laughing while eating salad.
Stock images are everywhere—billboards, news stories, listicles, t-shirts, memes, ads—and often they seem like giant clichés. Either that or they're kind of like something off Instagram: a less polished snap of your morning latte, for example.
To find out why stock photos seem to come in two mutually exclusive formats, we asked a woman from Getty Images named Jacqueline Bourke.
VICE: Hi Jacqueline, let's start with what you actually do.
Jacqueline Bourke: I work with the creative insights team at Getty and iStock. We're visual anthropologists, trying to gauge what our customers want to buy and what their needs will be in the future. Getty has 21 years of customer buying trends from all over the world, and some pretty unique data that we get to dive into.
So you're really in the business of data crunching?
That's right. We look at global visual culture, at what is happening across popular social media platforms, as well as what's happening in art and advertising. We're trying to understand what the key social, cultural and economic trends are shaping human behavior.
What are the sorts of photos in demand at the moment?
Right now, it's a combination of that slice of life phone photography, but also a very different demand for high quality, meaningful images. We're very much balancing out living in an era of purposeful consumption. Consumers look at a brand's values, we don't want to damage the world, and we want to buy something that's special and says something unique about us. Our customers are often looking for an image that has something non-conformist about it.
So how do you source all these weirdly specific images?
We have contributors from all over the world, including your traditional expert photographers. But over the last few years, we've also started using what we call a user-generated crowd. We have a Twitter feed where we tweet to our customers asking for fresher stuff, and anyone can take these ideas and shoot them. We send out a feed of live briefs, and people can upload their photography from mobiles.
So we're all taking so many photos that stock photos have to look convincing for us to believe them?
That's right. Particularly in Australia where we're sophisticated image consumers who understand how images are made. There's this rise of stereotypes, that people riff off. There's an evolution taking place around universal archetypes. Basically, we're all in on the joke, and that can be a useful thing.
Australians love a dank meme.
That's true. The advertising that's coming out of Australia shows how we're living in a very humorous climate. The most watched advertisement at the Superbowl, the one by Doritos that featured a baby shooting out of the womb, that actually came from Australia
How do you feel about stick image clichés personally?
Well, there are actually two sides to that. Those clichés exist for a reason. They're universally recognised, and we can have humorous conversation about them because we recognise them. A healthy lady laughing while eating a salad, and so on, is instantly recognisable and becomes a joke. But because of humour, it can actually be a very useful stock image.
Jacqueline is speaking at Semi-Permanent Festival, which runs from May 26-28 at Carriageworks, Sydney. You can find out more about the festival and buy tickets here.