Wednesday, April 3, 2013

So Much Sameness in a World of Diversity

If you're not in the design business, you may not know that the use of photography has completely changed over the past 20 years.

In the early 1990s and before, you could hire a photographer to shoot images you needed, and often that was the best option. There were stock photo books, too, but they were exclusively what is called "rights managed." That meant you would find a photo you wanted to use, contact the photo house, and then negotiate a one-time-use price, based on how many people were going to see the printed piece and in what context. Essentially, they wanted to know what the print run was and whether it was for advertising (more expensive) or editorial (cheaper) use.

In the mid-1990s, just as the web was taking off, a company called PhotoDisc launched. It licensed "royalty-free" photos on CDs. These were photos that you could use multiple times, without regard to viewership or context. You didn't own them, but you weren't restricted much in their use, either, and they were a lot cheaper than rights-managed images.

PhotoDisc sent out catalogs, from which you could select photo sets. You called them up, paid, and then they would send your images by mail on a disc. Very roundabout, compared to licensing photos on a website, I know, but it was a big advance. Starting in 1995, they began doing payment and downloads from their website; it was probably the earliest ecommerce I did.

PhotoDisc was famous for "object" photos, sometimes with hands holding things, taken against a white background. And does anyone else remember the distorted photos of people who were shot from overhead, with their lower body made tiny by forced perspective? Those were hot for a while, too.

The company later was later bought by Getty, which also owns the ubiquitous and many other image collections. Getty's largest competition now is Corbis, owned by Microsoft.

All this is background to this excellent example of what happens in a world full of stock photography.

This would never have happened in 1990. Click to enlarge and enjoy the sameness that is arms-crossed-wearing-scrubs-smiling-woman.

Via Twitter user Megan McCarthy

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