While stock imagery can be a gold mine for small businesses and content creators, it’s no secret that finding quality stock photos of people of color has been a struggle for years. Not only is there a limited amount of imagery available, but the images available have been called inauthentic, bland and borderline offensive.
It’s why people conduct Google Images experiments on Twitter, showing how few Black and brown faces come up when you type phrases like “women at work” or “beautiful brides” into the search bar. It’s why “Women Laughing Alone with a Salad” exists. It’s one of the reasons why Getty Images teamed up with Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In organization to create an entire collection of diverse photos of women.
Now, enter three new stock imagery services that are providing diverse art at low rates. BlackStockImages, CreateHer Stock and Color Stock all launched this summer, each startup offering affordable, quality stock photos of people of color.
“I would search ‘Black stock images’ and when I looked at the results that came up, I’d see a black cat or a wolf or the moon, or something like that,” says Kenneth Wiggins, a web designer and front end developer from Washington, D.C.
Frustrated by the lack of solid images available for his clients’ projects, Wiggins decided to take a proactive approach. “There was a really specific attitude that I wanted to create visually,” says Wiggins. He tried to find something that “spoke to [him]” or was, at least, “close enough,” but nothing was available. So, he took to social media, sending out an open invite for any photographers who wanted to come together to share their work.
Originally, Wiggins’ project was going to be an open source for stock photos, but others suggested that he try to pay photographers for their work. Photographers who allow their work to be licensed through BlackStockImages are paid a 65 percent commission. Users sign up for an account and get access to both the free image collection and the for-sale images. Users can either pay through Pay Pal or by purchasing online credits.
It launched on Aug. 3 and so far, Wiggins has been getting a lot of positive feedback. “Based on the feedback and what people are saying about Black Stock and CreateHER Stock and Color Stock, the reactions have been like ‘Oh my God! We’ve been waiting for something like this for so long,’” says Wiggins.
Neosha Gardner, founder of the aforementioned CreateHer Stock, has been getting a lot of the same feedback. “I’ve had people say, ‘Oh my God, where have you been? I needed this two hours ago,’” says Gardner. “The feedback has been very positive, uplifting and people are very appreciative.”
CreateHER Stock has a special focus on Black women, offering diverse and authentic imagery “for the everyday female blogger and creative of color.” Gardner, who operates her own brand design company called Hun Creative and runs a personal lifestyle blog, itsratednegee.com, was inspired to start her service when she had trouble finding a photo for a post last summer.
“That’s when a light bulb went off. I’ve seen several people mention having something like that but nobody ever took the initiative to actually go and create it, so I was like, ‘I’m a web designer. I can put a brand together. Why not invest in doing this for us?’” says Gardner.
She reached out to photographers she wanted to work with and completed the branding for the site almost overnight.
CreateHER Stock, which launched in July, offers two options for users. The free option allows users to select photos from a specific set of images each month. The VIP option, which costs $7/month, gives users unlimited access to the entire CreateHER Stock gallery.
“We wanted to focus on images and people who wanted to contribute that brought that authentic feel. That was the whole point, to create things that we can actually relate to,” says Gardner.
Gardner, CreateHER Stock creative director I’sha Gaines, and their team of contributing photographers and bloggers are already working to expand. They plan to add free resources, like downloadable media kit templates, exclusive content and more.
Gardner says she believes people have been willing to contribute their work for free because they believe in the mission and purpose of CreateHER Stock.
“I’m a very giving person, so with us being a start-up and most of this coming out of my pocket, it’s like, you guys, I’m not Oprah, yet. I can’t pay you as much as I want to now, but trust and believe me – we will get to a point where I will pretty much be throwing cash at you,” she says, laughing.
It was that kind of commitment to a vision that led Jenifer Daniels and James Stewart Jr. to team up to create Color Stock. Launched on August 24, Color Stock provides “authentic imagery for creators of color.”
Daniels and Stewart knew each other from the Charlotte startup community. James runs a regional blog about entrepreneurship called Detailed Block and Jenifer is a PR professional and educator who teaches at UNC Charlotte and runs a PR and marketing academy called Good+SmartCo.
Just like the other two services, Color Stock was borne out of one of its creators’ frustrations with the stock photos that were currently on the market.
“I actually found a tweet of mine from May of 2014,” says Daniels. “I think I was having the same frustrations and I just started randomly tweeting ‘I cannot find pictures that actually look like regular people that I know.’”
“It’s not that there are no images. It’s that they’re not authentic. They’re taken through the lens of how other people see us or think about us, and not how we think about ourselves,” says Daniels.
At the time, Daniels didn’t have the technical skills to launch her own site (she’s now learning to code through online resources like Code Academy and Free Code Camp), and the idea was put on the backburner for a while. Earlier this year, she began running into Stewart at a lot of events and “really liked his vibe” and tech-savvy.
“I literally cornered him one day and was like ‘Come here, I want to talk to you about something. I need a co-founder, I really want to get this idea off the ground,” says Daniels.
That was almost two months ago. Now, the site is up. It’s currently still in beta, and users can download photos on a pay-per-image basis. After the Color Stock team decides to leave beta, they will reevaluate to see if they want to switch to a subscription model.
Daniels feels that having quality, diverse stock imagery that feels real and rich is an important part of media diversity. “They don’t have to be Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs, but they at least have to represent people who look like me. I want to see myself in a product that I use. I want to see myself in a company that I choose to patronize and give my money to,” she says.
Daniels didn’t want to stop at providing quality imagery of Black people either, saying this is a problem for all people of color. “For Asian people, they aren’t going to Google themselves and see flattering imagery. They’re going to see stereotypes. Same thing with our Latino brothers and sisters and our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters,” says Daniels. “The other thing that I think is important is that our imagery is representative, but it’s also just a foray into building a community. Creatives of color are really starting to build community because they’ve realized that we need each other in order to be successful.”
Her point is underlined by the fact that each of the entrepreneurs featured in this article name–dropped their would-be competitors during their interviews. Despite the fact that they all launched their services around the exact same time, each of them wanted to make sure the other sites got a mention.
“We cannot be competitive in this,” says Daniels. “We need to hold each other up to move forward.”