Thursday, 4:13pm
28 June 2012

All of life is captioned here

Stock Photo Libraries

John Foxx Images, Stone, Dynamic Graphics Inc

I always wondered what purgatory was like. Now I’ve seen it. It’s the stock photo library. Images waiting hopefully, looking forward to going to a better place that will offer a context to lend their life meaning.

In Full Page Only, from John Foxx Images, each photo is brightly evangelical. No matter what category an image finds itself in – \'Business People\', \'Travel\' or \'Hi-tech\' – each seems sure of its worth. The rich colours fight against the layout, each screaming \'Pick Me!\', while the sharpness and intense colour mask the content of the image itself.

For Stone’s Meet Me, a collection of stock photos is edited as a book, opening with full-bleed opening pictures (by Ian and Peter Davies) of faces, skin, pores and hair, before moving into smaller photos. The book gives some sense of narrative, filled out occasionally with cryptic text of the kind you might hear in a perfume ad. What’s fascinating about the collection is the way images of people are categorised in Heideggerean fashion, according to states of being in the world. The sections have titles like \'Tender\', \'Restless\', \'Desire\', \'Sore\', \'Experience\' and \'Still\'. Meet Me introduces temporality and uniqueness into a genre of image that actually depends on conspicuous, timeless, universal clichés.

For Dynamic Graphics Inc’s Birth the pages are broken into grids, bordering or breaking up the image with white lines. The formalised design works because stock images are supposed to offer a formula for the generic activity they are supposed to represent.

The stock library is a strange behavioural portfolio, a visual index of a unique period in evolution, where we have never had so many visual representations of how we are meant to be.

First published in Eye no. 40 vol. 10, 2001