When you see a woman in a stock image what is she doing? “Looking nice”? “Taking care of children”? Depictions of women in stock seem to be trapped a decade or two (or three!) behind society as a whole, stereotyping them in gender-specific roles.
Fortunately, trends and attitudes have begun to shift in recent years, and demand for less predictable images of women has increased.
But women work in stock photography, too – what do some of those who help create these images say? We asked some top-ranking (female!) Fotolia Contributors about breaking the mold and changing the views of buyers.
Cathy Yeulet, owner of the UK based Monkey Business agrees that depictions of women in stock can be changed and have changed – a bit.
“We always ensure we represent females in stereotypical male roles, especially in business. We recently produced an engineering shoot with a female engineer and these sell well for us. And a few years ago we produced a business shoot where we placed both a man and woman at the head of the boardroom table. The image with the female in the lead role has outsold the same shot with the male.”
But Cathy is a realist about expectations of the role of women in different cultures: “The Western world is much more about empowering women and showing them in strong roles, [but] we sell content all around the world and we need to provide images depicting women in both traditional and professional roles to reflect varying cultures. We try and keep these kinds of shots natural and ensure that they celebrate a woman’s strength and style.”
“But there is always work to be done,” she admits.
French Contributor Hélène Cottin agrees that “every buyer has different needs [for] women’s pictures,” and it’s the buyer who is in charge. But at the same time, “the image of women is in consistent evolution: independent, dynamic, and ambitious. Buyers are more and more aware…of their female audience and want to highlight them in a contemporary and fresh way. Then, the vision of women in communication evolves.”
Celine Rolland, who is also French, denies that stock photography encourages gender stereotyping, she says, “I’m not looking for THE image of a woman. My designs are a mix of all the things I like which will hopefully prove popular to others. I really don’t have the aspirations to stereotype!”
Celine is optimistic about her role because it gives “[the] chance to show a different sensitivity and another point of view. I think (and hope) that the demand is not only for “perfect” and “classic” models. You need diversity: funny, unconventional, authentic…real women!
In Germany, Diana Drubig agrees – her vision of “women” is a reassuringly broad one; she says, “I am enthusiastic about working with models of all ages, regardless of their clothing size or type. I think it is important that a model, regardless of age, keeps a natural look, even if it includes grey hair or a stooped posture. Every woman is worth being photographed.”
But she has a slightly different take, explaining that “My main goal is to photograph a woman in a feminine and soft manner in which she herself feels attractive. Even in “everyday situations” I think it is important that a woman looks cultivated and attractive.”
What do you think? Are stock images of women out of date? Is it the responsibility of women photographers to redefine and push the boundaries of femininity? Let us know…