Eye-Popping Getty Video Montage: Great Marketing Piece or Insult to Photographers?

by The Editor

posted Friday, June 1, 2012 at 1:00 PM EST

Some of our most interesting conversations here at Imaging Resource are over new photo products or what to cover in the news but they normally never see the light of day. We had such widely varying reactions to the following short film, which is comprised of 873 seemingly random Getty stock images (displayed at 15 images per second), though, that we thought it was worth sharing with our readers.

Check out the 1:06-minute film below, which was created by AlmapBBDO to advertise Getty Images' database of visual content, and then share your reactions to it and to our dialogue in the comments below.

It's worth noting the text below was taken directly from an in-house email exchange about the video. It's been lightly edited.


Steve Meltzer, Imaging Resource Contributing Writer:

I watched this nonsense over the weekend a couple of times and was very turned off by its cynicism. As the former owner of a stock agency, I think it is just another tone-deaf Getty exercise that disses photographers and implies that we are all interchangeable cogs in the great machine of Getty.
 
Isn't it insulting to photographers to show one of their photos for 1/15th of a second? It disrespects the photographer who had worked to think up the image, hire models, make sets and deal with lights etc. I'd be upset.
 
On the visual side, the few images I can make out are not that good. Cliché after cliché. The whole thing is bizarre. Love, sex, birth, family and death reduced to 67 seconds. That's like Shakespeare's Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet in thirty seconds.
 
And it is so "First World White." Am I the only one who didn't see a black face? I am surprised no one has pointed out that folks like Latinos, blacks and Asians are not represented and that the 873 images seem to be from another planet; one without real world issues like poverty, war and environmental degradation.
 
The prudishness of this piece is also astonishing. It glides over life, pretending it is about life. Even death in this whiz-bang slide show is implied; it lacks its "sting." There is a hint of sex, a woman removing her bra but no physical sex scenes: just sperm and eggs.  Like they used to do it the movies, when the lovers got serious, the camera panned to a fireworks display somewhere. Hardly love and passion.

This is a "feel good" piece that makes me feel bad. Its purpose is to reassure everyone that the world of Getty, like the world of Disney, is clean and happy and safe.
 
It makes me feel photography has reached the place where images don't matter, photographers don't matter and certainly feelings and humanity don't either. What matters is selling the product.

Dave Etchells, Imaging Resource Founder & Publisher:

Perhaps given your perspective from having been in the stock biz before, Steve, you might be a little hard on them.

For what it's worth, there are quite a few non-white faces in there. Moving in jumps of 4-5 frames -- which is the best I could manage while scrubbing with the cursor -- there are at least several black faces (admittedly not many, at least in my limited examination), quite a few Latinos, and many Asians represented.

Condensing life to 67 seconds: well, sure that may be simplistic but that's what's interesting about it. Have you ever seen the Powers of 10 film by Charles Eames? You could complain that it's not realistic, the camera is moving at faster than the speed of light for much of it. It also doesn't show any ugly things. For heaven's sake, there are entire solar systems being swallowed by black holes out there: Why doesn't it show that?

As to poverty, hunger, war, etc, I really don't think every pictorial essay needs to make reference to those. And I really don't think sex has to be played out in all its XXX splendor whenever it's mentioned. The piece is obviously G-rated so as to not offend sensibilities.

You can say that people who'd be offended by something more explicit are prudish (although there could be a whole side discussion about that), but I don't think it's fair to criticize Getty for not showing hardcore pornography. (I wouldn't be surprised to learn that they don't have any in their database anyway; I think there'd be relatively little demand for it in the stock photo biz.)

To my mind, photography is as much (more, even) about what you leave out vs. what you include. It's all about using selective vision to present a perspective, play on an emotion, etc. I think the piece does a great job of that. I really liked it.

Arthur Etchells, Imaging Resource Features Editor & Director of User Experience:

I disagree with the criticisms but I understand them and I think there's a story to be told here on the nature of stock photography.

I think the spot is best understood not as an artistic statement on the human condition but as an upbeat advertisement to sell stock photography. This isn't a commissioned work of art but rather an advertising spot by a well-known agency, BBDO.

It's also worth noting that this is an advertisement aimed at purchasers of photos, not creators of same. It might be interesting to contrast Getty's advertising approaches in each of these channels.

The point relative to demand that Dave alludes to applies broadly (though in the specific case Dave mentions, I suspect this is best understood in terms of limitless supply, rather than as a demand-side question). Stock photography encompasses a lot of things, but at its root it relies on broad demand for certain people, poses, situations and stereotypes.

Photos from South Sudan? Yep.

Romney pointing? Bam.

Sultry bieber? Boom.

Graduation or marriage? Bada bing.

What's interesting is that the ad appeals only to the consumers of creative stock: the types of uses in the last two examples. Ironically, this is the territory where iStockphoto is strongest relative to Getty (and for which Getty had to pay $50M to acquire). I'd argue the ad fails on some counts, most of all in that it gives an inaccurate impression of the breadth and seriousness of the Getty corpus. The conclusion I reach in watching their ad is they're aspiring to be an upmarket iStockphoto.

Of course, I didn't see the creative brief and it may be that creative stock is easier to use in an ad than their reportage, whether due to legal issues, permissible uses without model releases, rights ownership, etc.

Then there's the whole question of commoditization. I guess I don't have a lot of sympathy here. I mean "stock" doesn't have connotations in my mind that suggest an outcome too far from commoditization. If I want my photography treated as art, I'm probably not going to sell it to someone who has "stock" in their name. That said, Getty seems to convey a great deal more reverence to its photographers work in the reportage (Sudanese example) and other editorial categories.

As an aside, I agree the fireworks were beyond tacky and decreased the merit of the overall work. As far as diversity, we have a Chinese family celebrating the new year in 385, interspecies love in 19, an Asian woman in the throes of orgasm in 155, an African couple embracing in 105, potentially Hispanic family in 390, Mariachi band in 400, and the pièce de résistance: multicultural clay people in 403.

 

So what do you think? Were you charmed by this video animation showcasing Getty images or did you find it to be a corny, clichéd insult to the photographers whose work it uses?

Share your enjoyment or outrage in the comments below!