Image banks like Getty Images and Shutterstock that sell ready-to-use ‘stock’ photographs online have become the visual backbone of advertising, branding, publishing, and journalism. Also, daily exposure to stock images has increased exponentially with the rise of social networking and the generic visuals used in lifestyle articles and ‘clickbait’ posts. The stock imagery business has become a global industry through recent developments in e-commerce, copyright and social media (Glückler & Panitz, 2013).
However, stock images are most often overlooked rather than looked at—both by ‘ordinary’ people in the contexts of their everyday lives and by scholars, who have rarely taken an interest in this industry and genre in its own right. There are some notable exceptions, dating back to the ‘pre-Internet’ era of stock photography, like Paul Frosh’s work on the ‘visual content industry’ in the early 2000s or David Machin’s critical analysis of stock imagery as the ‘world’s visual language’ (Frosh, 2003; Machin, 2004). As a whole, and compared to other media and communication industries, research on online image banks and digital stock imagery is virtually uncharted territory.
Why, then, should stock images be ascribed any significance or power since people do not particularly pay attention to them? Stock images are not only the ‘wallpaper’ of consumer culture (Frosh, 2003 and 2013); they are also central to the ambient image environment that defines our visual world, which is now increasingly digital and global while also remaining very much analogue and local (just think of your own encounters with such imagery at your bank branch, at your dentist or beauty salon, or on billboards in city streets). Pre-produced images are the raw material for the world’s visual media.Read More… Taking Stock