The stock photography industry is known for its overwhelming whiteness and a lack of cultural representation. Of course, simply blaming the stock industry is unfair.  Photographers are merely catering to the demands of the market. And it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out what the market wants. Just take a look at Hollywood.

The whitewashing of Hollywood

The movie industry is arguably the biggest platform to study the efficiency of cultural representation. Throughout the years, Hollywood has been guilty of whitewashing a large part of the industry. An example of this is seen in the Nickelodeon series ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ (or The Legend of Aang in some regions). Due to the massive success, the series was made into a Hollywood movie, ‘The Last Airbender’.

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Sounds good, right? Yes, if you ignore the fact that the lead role was given to a white male. Shocking, given that the movie was entirely based on the life of an Asian television character. In addition, Dylan Marron’s ‘Every Single Word’ on Tumblr offers a disturbing insight to further illustrate the whitewashing of Hollywood. Dylan has compiled all the lines spoken by characters of color in films from the past 50 years.

The results? In the entire Harry Potter film series, nearly 20 hours in total, only six minutes are spoken by characters of color. Meanwhile, for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, they did not even get a minute. Interestingly, this is just a small sample of some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters. Taking this into consideration, you now have an idea into the demands of the market. However, it is time to address the glaring lack of cultural representation in the media.

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Cultural representation with TONL

TONL was born to solve the problems of stock photography collections remaining overwhelmingly white, culturally limited, and aesthetically stale. Hence, enter Karen Okonkwo and Joshua Kissi. The former is a Seattle-based serial entrepreneur while the latter is a jack of all trades and a master of it too. Joshua is a New York-based photographer, creative director, and co-founder of a men’s lifestyle website turned creative agency, Street Etiquette.

TONL was launched in 2017 and it promotes cultural, social, and racial diversity. It also aims to replace the stereotypical and bland images of stock photography with modern aesthetics. The duo initially decided to persist with this idea as it was becoming increasingly difficult to find images which showcased cultural diversity for their projects. However, things changed following the unfortunate incidents of police brutality and killings in July 2016. The black community was under attack, and the pair decided it was time to move forward with this concept.

TONL prides itself on appropriate cultural representation and not just for the African and afro-American community. Although it may prove to be difficult, Karen and Joshua do their best to fill the gaps of cultural representations. In addition, images produced by the pair are often accompanied with the appropriate filters to bring out the best in their models. The variations in the skin tone of the models, be it olive complexions or darker skin is a testament to the name of this brand, TONL (Tohn-uhl).   

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Man on a mission

Campbell Addy is a British – Ghanaian photographer who is on a mission to diversify stock photography. His images disrupts the homogeneity commonly associated to this industry. Campbell is also the founder of a modeling and casting agency, Nii, and he focuses on recruiting models of various looks, ages, body types, and backgrounds.

This concept also seamlessly transfers to the stock industry as he looks beyond just one’s race and skin color. His photography series entitled ‘Dazed 100’  and ‘Selfridges Campaign: Music Matters’ fully embodies this. Meanwhile, his ‘Black Dolls’ campaign for the arts and design magazine, Creative Review, takes a unique stand on the apparent whiteness of children’s dolls.

Campbell’s immense talent is also highly evident in his video collection. His best work is arguably Anaïs’ hit music video, ‘Nina’. Inspired by American singer and Civil Rights Movement activist, Nina Simone, the London-based artist reached out to Campbell to direct her special tribute. Fast forward to March 2018, and the duo did not disappoint. Campbell’s stunning visuals and Anaïs’ vocals demanded for the world to pause and take notice.

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Today, cultural representation remains a rather disturbing issue in our society. However, efforts are certainly being made to tackle this. As part of the booming stock photography industry, we here at 123RF will contribute in the fight towards a diversified media. Therefore, we have curated a likebox entitled ‘Colors of Culture’ which builds on the spirit of accurate cultural representations.

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For more photography trends, check out our take on the stock photography industry’s attempt at  redefining masculinity. Alternatively, if you would like to gain some insight on the creative process of a photographer, read up on our interview with the skillful Jacob Lund!