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Wanted: Photos of real New Zealand women

Calling all wannabe photographers. US-based stock photography company Getty Images is looking to boost its new Lean In on iStock collection and has launched a competition to find pictures of “real” women and girls to add to its stocks. The problem Getty is trying to solve, says Rebecca Swift, iStock’s director of creative planning, is a shortage of non-stereotypical photos of women to feed a market increasingly wanting an alternative to the skinny, young and white. 

Really? Are the media and marketing sectors seriously interested in putting “real” people in their magazines and their ads? Apparently yes. At the launch of the collection (and the competition) to a room full of media and marketing types in Auckland, the reaction wasn’t “Why should I use your real women photos?” but: “About time – and by the way, 1000 images isn’t nearly enough and we need more New Zealand-relevant ones.”


Rebecca Swift

If this reaction is indicative of a wider trend, New Zealand magazines and marketers may be suffering less from a narrow, stereotypical view of how women should look and behave, and more from a shortage of alternative options in terms of stock photography.

The Lean In collection is jointly curated by Getty and Leanin.org, the women’s empowerment not-for-profit founded by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. The aim, according to Getty, is to “show authentic females in a broad spectrum of roles [including business ones] and celebrate diversity with images featuring real bodies and unique style”. The collection was initially launched in March last year on Getty’s main platform, where Swift says it now outsells other collections. It has just been expanded to the company’s second-tier (ie cheaper) platform iStock.

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It seems the need is there – in New Zealand at least. As one magazine editor put it at the launch: “We have a health company client, for example, who is trying to appeal to the older market, but we struggle to find New Zealand-relevant stock images of women in the 40-60 bracket. Our client wants images of active middle-aged women but [stock photos are] always the same old stuff – cheesy yoga poses on the beach in the middle of nowhere. We have occasionally resorted to photo-shopping grey hairs onto a younger model.”

Another marketing person at the launch complained about the lack of non-Pakeha shots. New Zealand has become increasingly diverse, she said, but stock images haven’t kept up. “We have long struggled to get contemporary images of a range of New Zealanders. Search “Indian”, for example, and you get a lot of women in traditional dress, or pictures of women obviously in America or Europe, but no pictures of a modern Indian family in New Zealand. We end up using a lot of Caucasian women because we can’t find anything else.”

Often the only way to find a picture of a Pacific Island woman is to use the search term “obese”.

The problem isn’t purely a lack of willingness on Getty’s part, Swift says. The organisation struggles with finding modeling agencies with older models on their books, and photographers who think beyond stereotypical subjects.

“We are actively looking for a broader range of body shapes, and a more diversity in our models. But our photographers are freelance, and we have to persuade them to produce different content, and that there will be a market for it. In the past, anyone who wasn’t Caucasian, who wasn’t able-bodied or who was of a certain age, was considered as being niche – model agencies and photographers just didn’t use them. But I believe there is a market for diversity – people shouldn’t think they are taking a risk casting older models.”

Hence the photography competition. At the moment there are only two New Zealand photographers contributing to the new collection, but they want more. “We are looking for New Zealanders to put forward images, says Getty’s Australasian spokesperson Anne Flanagan. “We want to show authentic Kiwi females in a broad spectrum of roles, and celebrate diversity with images featuring real bodies and unique style.”

Any photographer can submit a portfolio of up to 10 images for the competition, which closes January 31 2016, Flanagan says. “If your images are selected by us, we will invite you to join our roster of iStock contributors.” Photographers get paid when someone downloads one of their photos from the site, she says, and can earn anything from “a few hundred dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars a year”, depending on the number of photos they put up and how popular they are.

Tempted to enter? Here is Getty’s wishlist for wannabe Kiwi Lean In iStock photographers

 1.      Ethnicity: Real Maori, Pacific Islander and Asian women and their families at home and in the community, and in all the following categories:

2.      Rural: either running a small rural business, or active in a rural community or working on a farm

3.      Strong women in business: this can be small business, own business, creative business, corporate or anything in between.

4.      Generations: Young tough girls playing or exploring New Zealand or their own backyard. Strong mature women and grandparents of all ethnicities, and the unique relationships between the generations both at home and out and about.

5.      Active life: Real women of all ages taking exercise. Hold the beautiful models, the crop top and the swinging ponytail, Getty wants a range of people hiking with friends or family, doing yoga, running, kayaking, heading to the gym, surfing, or bike riding, swimming clubs. “We want it to be real, not a Nike commercial.”

All photos above are courtesy of the Getty Lean In collection

And while we are on the topic of stock photos, we couldn’t resist bringing you our top five favourite stock image piss-take sites:

1) Women laughing alone with salad: a blog started by The Hairpin, and “devoted to the bizarre stock photo trend of women looking WAY too happy to be eating salad.”


2) Women struggling to drink water: beautiful women in skimpy clothes sensationally failing to hit their mouths when drinking, also courtesy of The Hairpin.


3) Men laughing alone with yogurt: Variation on the same theme, just with men

4) Hide the pain Harold: Doctored shots of an old-guy-with-beard stock photo model, smiling through the pain. (Sometimes he’s called Maurice.)


And finally, any excuse to link to BuzzFeed’s 12 worst stock photos of the year

Chief editor at Idealog, Nikki's a veteran in the journalism industry. A former lecturer at AUT University, she was the chief reporter at NZ weekly business publication The Independent and was deputy editor of Canadian publication Unlimited magazine.

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