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Changing the way women are represented in the media: the case of stock photography

by on February 13, 2014

Stock photos are infamous for reproducing and reinforcing stereotypes (you only have to look at the brilliant Women Laughing Alone with Salad website to get an inkling of this well established internet meme). In our Age at Work research stock photos have proved to be an unexpectedly rich data type that we collected from Web 2.0. So we were very interested when it was announced this week that Sheryl Sandberg’s nonprofit organization, LeanIn.org is starting a partnership with Getty Images, one of the biggest providers of stock photography, to offer a new collection of images that will ‘represent women and families in more empowering ways’.

Although it’s been widely touted in the media as addressing sexism (as here in the Evening Standard and here in The Independent), this initiative has the potential to challenge ageism too. As Felicity Morse said in her piece in The Independent, ‘editors can now pick pictures of women older than 30 in roles other than that of the doting grandma’. In the past, Getty has added new types of photos to its collection to reflect changes in society such as more pictures of older people doing physical activities.

Not everyone is hopeful that this project will change very much as this opinion piece in the Guardian illustrates. And, as one of the reader comments points out, it’s not just what’s in the picture library that matters, it’s also what gets chosen by the picture editor.

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