When we heard that Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In non-profit was partnering with Getty Images to create stock photos that portrayed women in a more positive way, there was a general hurrah over here in IMAGE HQ. Getty is one of the largest suppliers of stock photos in the world, thereby playing a pivotal role in how visuals influence our way of perceiving the world. It’s a resource we oursleves use frequently across our titles. The initiative comes as a way of encouraging a better and more diverse vision of women and family. Jessica Bennett, one of the chief journalists working on the project, pointed out the frequently negative portrayal of business women in stock images that were frequently used, stating “If you search for something like ‘female workplace leader,’ you come up with bunch of images of women in short skirts and high heels, holding wrenches.”
The images Lean In and Getty have produced (visible above) are not only aimed at promoting a more empowered version of women, but also focus on diversity across age, beauty, gender and ethnicity. The selection is taken largely from images that already existed within Getty’s image catalogue, which Lean In has curated. The proceeds from the 2,500 images currently in stock will go towards funding Sandberg’s LeanIn.org. The collection includes images with titles such as “Heavy Metal father with daughter” and images of women working out (actually working out) along with images of older women and different body shapes – a body of stunning images that in no way is compromised by the fact that they have been curated for the purposes of positive impact.
What the Lean In/Getty revolution highlights is the complacency with which we’ve grown accustomed to images that promote disempowering and old-fashioned visions of women. Furthermore, it evidences how barely perceptible and therefore far more dangerous the messages portrayed in these photographs are. Everyone within the industry has heard awful stories of photos not being used because of their ‘unconventionality’ ergo, images that don’t meet a certain standard of beauty and impactfullness which the reader is accustomed to seeing and which editorial has grown accustomed to delivering.
In IMAGE Publications we welcome the initiative and are dedicated to using the photographs in our editorial to promote these new positive models for women and families. Our Editor Rosie McMeel in particular is enthusiastic about the initiative, saying “I welcome any movement to promote women in a more positive light throughout our pages, and the media as a whole. Imagery is incredibly powerful, and often the pictures used to illustrate a feature can be as important as the feature itself. The wrong one can have insidious effects. At IMAGE, we want to use pictures that represent the women who read our magazine, or the person they aspire to be, not some outdated sexist version of them, so I hope that Getty’s Lean In Collection is just the start of things to come.” And yet in publishing we are also interested in good content and eye-catching imagery. This presents a challenge which only the reader can help with. In order for this to take off it requires a re-calibration of the norms that readers are accustomed to – norms that often insidiously perpetuate damaging stereotypes in spite of the fact that we have grown used to perceiving them as ‘the norm.’ Will it work? Will you, reader, be as drawn to an image of an imperfect woman in her 40’s in a suit, as you are to a stiletto wielding and scarcely clad ‘sexy secretary’ pouting at a desk? We are willing to gamble if you will too…
In the meantime go onto our Facebook page and vote for the image that you find most appealing.
Roisin Agnew @Roxeenna