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The New Age of Editorial Photography . . . . Images Are Getting Real, AgainIn 1987, I can remember talking with a California stock photo agency director who waved his hand toward his office files with the exclamation, “Editorial photos? We have plenty of those!” The pictures he referred to, of course, were clean-cut models in a work situation, smiling at a computer screen, or a housewife pleasantly choring away with her modern vacuum cleaner. The viewing public in those days, it was assumed, preferred fairytale “editorial” pictures.
Catalogs of historical B&W photos from the post war era also reflect the aspirations of the public (or at least that’s what the art directors figured) to depict a wonderland society, peaches and cream, that, however, few people would ever experience.
Times have changed. Maybe it was the shock of 9/11 or the turmoil in the Middle East; or it may be the influence of TV that can portray reality as it really is. The public is growing up and getting real. Publishers are wakening up also. We are seeing a growing willingness of publishers to tackle controversial subjects with natural lighting and hand-held camerawork. Even major Hollywood films today reflect a cultural acceptance of the “real.”
Yes, the squeaky-clean advertising pictures we continue to see today have their place – in advertising. Magazine and book publishers have shifted to a sense of realism in the images they choose for production. They perceive that their readership wants the “straight story.”
The nominations for “The Oscars” this year also reflect this willingness to tackle gritty, topical issues head on. The top nominations range from race relations (“Crash”) to the death penalty (“Capote”). In fact all four major nominees deal with realism and the personal cost of making life decisions based on whether to conform to social norms or not.
If you are an editorial stock photographer, you can translate this present trend towards “realness” –as a marketing challenge. It means less or more sales (licensing) of your images based on your personal preferences.
Will the pendulum eventually swing back to the fairytale type of photos of the last decade? Probably so. I’ve watched this phenomenon over the last 40 years, and my bet is that it will continue in the pattern of shifting back and forth every ten to fifteen years or so.
Rohn Engh is director of PhotoSource International and publisher of PhotoStockNotes. Pine Lake Farm, 1910 35th Road, Osceola, WI 54020 USA. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org . Fax: 1 715 248 7394. Web site: www.photosource.com .