Type ‘woman eating alone’ into any stock image website, and chances are you’ll get a whole bunch of ladies laughing into their salads.
According to iStock director of creative planning, Rebecca Swift, these types of photographs take place as a kind of “iconography”, an inherent part of society’s portrayal of women.
“Something happens and it just becomes iconic,” she told B&T, citing the example of retro housewife ads and how they encouraged women to return to the home after men came back from war.
“Then we just got into a comfort zone.”
But it’s not the 50s anymore, and Swift shared that of the top three most used search terms on Getty Images, ‘woman’ was number one, meaning it’s about time the photography industry, and subsequently the advertising and media industries, start representing women in a more authentic way.
And it’s this train of thought that inspired Getty Images to team up with LeanIn.Org, the women’s non-profit founded by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, to expertly curate images devoted to the powerful depiction of women, girls and the communities who support them.
“It’s about time we get up on our soapbox more,” Swift said, adding that women are doing great things, but your typical female stock image doesn’t accurately reflect that.
The Lean In Collection on iStock by Getty Images is crowd sourced from iStock’s global contributor community, which benches well over 130,000 happy snappers, and after first launching in February last year now reaches into 72 countries, including, as of yesterday, Australia.
Expanding down under was a big deal for Swift, who told B&T that while women are moving up the ranks of decision makers in industries like advertising, they are still dealing with the “huge weight of male history”.
“The old dinosaurs are dying and women are rising up,” she said. “And with more women guiding [photo] shoots in the industry, things will change.”
“But there will always be customers who use ‘woman laughing at salad’ images.”
Proving that she’s onto something and that the photography of women is shifting, Swift shared the most used female stock image from 2007:
We’ve moved from naked spa lady perfectly posed to a woman who was snapped by her boyfriend en route to a Scottish hiking holiday, so we’re off to an alright start, Swift said.
Interestingly, searches for ‘female business executives’ jumped 350 per cent in the last three years, to which Swift asked, “Why was no one searching this before?”. Searches for ‘dad changing nappy/diaper’ have also climbed up by seven times its original number in the last three years.
“Getty Images has chronicled this cultural shift over the last three years and we’ve seen searches for female imagery evolve from domestic roles,” she said.
“The demand for these images is both indicative and important, and we are excited to announce our commitment to expand the footprint of the Lean In Collection in Australia and place these images in the hands of a broader cross-section of users.”
And according to VenusComms founder and creative director, Bec Brideson, initiatives like Lean In are helping Aussie brands along in their choices of depicting real Aussie women.
“Women are responsible for around nine out of 10 purchases,” she said. “But 91 per cent of advertisers don’t engage with or understand women’s needs.”
“To be commercially clever, brands need to understand what resonates with women and the Lean In series nails it.”