Before I commence my complaint, thank you, photographers, for sharing your work with the masses both via Unsplash and other stock photo platforms. A picture is worth a thousand words and your photos bring our thousand words (or less) to life. Your photos can convey our message even before the audience engages with our content. That’s power.
Also, thank you to Medium for granting us access to stock photos without us needing to pay licensing fees and whatnot. I think that’s dope and I’m grateful for it.
However — I’d really like to see more diversity. I’m not sure how much enough would be but I know I’d like to see a lot more variances in skin tone, hair textures, and anything in between as I’m skimming through looking for a picture that’ll make sense. I was surprised to find there was someone else I met yesterday feeling the same way. That was my motivation for writing this.
First, I’ll establish the fact that I’m black. I mostly write about my personal experiences so when it comes time to select a headline picture, sometimes I’d like the picture to represent me in some capacity. For instance, I wrote about my family and I wanted a picture of a dysfunctional family. I scoured multiple stock photo sites and I can not remember seeing one black family in the many photos I searched with the keywords “dysfunctional family.” Ironic that I was disappointed to find blacks not depicted as dysfunctional.
I settled for a clip art of those stick figure families you see stuck on the back of cars. Even then, one of the stick figures had a long ponytail with a scrunchy leading me to make the possibly silly assumption that this was a white family. But it was ambiguous enough so I stuck with it.
Frankly, when publishing content here, I’d much rather skip the whole headline picture but that doesn’t fit the standard here, understandably. So I’ve resorted to the following methods. I aim for unique, a picture that no one else would have. I look through my phone’s gallery and my Google Photos if I think something may work. If I have to resort to stock photos (most often the case), I avoid pictures of models as much as I can. That takes out the issue of representation altogether. I actually prefer cartoons or clip art for its ambiguity. Anyone can relate to clip art.
With that said, I also want to establish that no one’s doing anything wrong here. I sometimes sense that a call for diversity implies there are racist and discriminatory undertones. I am not versed in photography but I imagine a photographer captures a photo based on their perception of beauty instead of an acute focus on representation. That’s okay.
I guess this is a call for more varied perceptions of beauty. I’d like more photographers that see the beauty in two Asians half-dressed, sensually embracing each other. I’d like more photographers that see the beauty in an African family with both parents present. I’d like more photographers that see the beauty in wearing prosthetic limbs. I’d like more photographers that see the beauty in the Native American culture beyond images of dreamcatchers.
Maybe I’m just being picky but I do have a solution. I just need to be the change I want to see. Does that mean I’ll take up photography? No thanks, at least not in the near future. But I will convince my husband to since the interest is there. Maybe this will convince others with diverse perceptions of beauty to dust off their cameras and let us see beauty through their eyes.
In the meantime, I’m going to relish in this one stock photo I found. I came across this image while using Unsplash to search for an image for my other piece. I used the keyword “afro” and found the picture in the fifth set of results. Every time I see this picture I smile. Yes, her smile is contagious but she’s beautiful. She kind of looks like me. We have similar skin tones and hair textures. I’m happy Jessica Felicio found this beautiful too.