Stock Photography - The Face of Fake News?

The BBC has posted an unusual article today about stock photography.

Although it does poke fun at some of the more clichéd stock photography tropes - the "hands glued to head" and "Diverse business meeting" did make me laugh - the article seems to try to kickstart discussion about whether stock photography is the cause, or at least a willing partner, in the modern world of post-factual, click-bait, Trump-tastic fake news culture that has emerged.

The BBC uses this example from Getty to highlight how absurd and artificial stock can be.  

The BBC uses this example from Getty to highlight how absurd and artificial stock can be.  

The problem I have with the article is it asks a question but then doesn't do anything to answer it, while itself using cherry-picked stock images to support the author's argument. It feels like it's trying to be clever and subversive, undermining the power of photography by pointing out just how absurd  stock images can be.  I think it falls wide of the mark in its premise. 

The photography isn't the problem, it's the motive behind it. Just because you can find a stock photo to support a position or denounce a rival doesn't mean that stock photography is the cause of post-fact propaganda. It's a tool, just like any other illustration used since time immemorial. Uncle Sam Needs You is just as exaggerated and prosaic for its time as a stock photograph.


As anyone who has ever shot stock photos will attest, it's a strange market to work in. Exaggerated, unusual, eye-catching images sell because every website is trying to differentiate itself and catch consumer attention. It's also an extremely boring genre, requiring you shoot many variations of the same scene to give as much variety as possible - media types are very picky when it comes to images to support their brand and a "shotgun" approach of issuing thousands of similar, eye-catching images is the best way to ensure a sale.

What I find ironic is that in trying to show how stock photography is a key part of the post-fact era the author has themselves used a selection of images chosen to back that up. He conveniently ignores the fact he could have chosen any other images to back up any point he wanted to make! In trying to prove stock photography supports fake-news his entire article ends up being a polarised, fake view of the subject. 

When the final use for any visual asset (image, drawing, video) is propaganda you will always be able to find or create something to support your point of view. 

Stock photography is not supporting or fuelling post-factual news, it is simply a modern-era tool for people to make their point. Had the author stuck to showing just how crazy-looking some of the images are it would have been a much funnier, light-hearted look at one of the strangest photography genres. By trying to implicate it as a driver for reinforcing stereotypes or misrepresenting women he is placing blame for the cause of our exaggerated, attention-seeking social media cultures onto the icing, rather than the cake itself.

And to support my view that you can find any stock photo you want, here is a unexaggerated, unassuming, agenda-less stock photo of a cake. With icing. It is not, in itself, a lie.


Cake image is free stock from Pexels. Business meeting used for education/discussion purposes, source Getty. No challenge to their status intended