Type the word “hiking” into stock photo service Unsplash, and the site will cheerfully inform you that it has 3,308 images for you to choose from. There are backpackers framed by alpine peaks, tents pitched under starry skies and people trekking through all manner of attractive natural landscape. There are not, however, any black people. If you want a #wanderlust-worthy photo of a black hiker—or really any person of color—be prepared to scroll. For a long time.
“It’s not anybody’s fault,” says Jacques Bastien. But it is a problem. The 27-year-old founder of Boogie multicultural marketing agency and Shade, a management agency for black and brown influencers, discovered the issue when he went searching for images to use in client proposals or presentations. “We’d go to Unsplash to look for certain photos and we found a lack of people who look like us.”
Stock photo sites like Pexels or Unsplash (which, full disclosure, ABP uses regularly) were full of free high-quality, high-resolution images, but they lacked models of color. “We are people looking to be more intentional about diversity, and we’re having a hard time finding content,” Bastien says.
Which is why he recently launched Nappy.co a stock photo service that features beautiful images of brown and black people doing everyday things: eating pizza, hanging with friends, going for a run. The photos are all free, submitted by shooters who Bastien says “understand the mission.”
Though stock photography has a reputation for being stiff and nonsensical and has often been the butt of online mocking, Bastien says representation is important at all levels, from leading roles in Hollywood films to stock shots of the anonymous couple celebrating a pregnancy. Stock images find their way into editorial articles, blog posts, advertisements and marketing campaigns, sending subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) messages about race, gender and beauty, who looks like an executive and who doesn’t. Because their presence is ubiquitous but often unemphasized, their cues are absorbed subconsciously. Of course, the hiker/businesswoman/mother is white.
Bastien isn’t the only person who’s recognized the need to diversify the stock photo landscape. In 2015, Neosha Gardner launched CreateHER Stock when a search for authentic images of black women for a blog post turned up outdated and irrelevant content. Today, the site features more than 1,300 paid and free images “curated for female bloggers, creatives and online influencers of color.”
Colorstock also debuted in 2015 in response to the same frustrations Bastien expresses. “We are content creators who have trouble finding images of people who look like us. We are multicultural marketers who can’t find authentic photos of our audiences,” reads the Colorstock website. The service’s catalogue is broken down into categories like food, love, the city, family/children and healthy lifestyles, and royalty-free image licenses are $20 a pop.
“Even if 100 people were doing this, it could only benefit the culture,” Bastien says, adding that nappy.co is one of the few services that’s entirely free.
For Bastien, stock photos aren’t just an opportunity to be more intentional about diversity in imaging, they’re an important means of telling authentic stories about people of color, representing them in a positive light and showing the nuances of their identities. “I’m a designer, we’re marketers. I believe we’re the people who control what the world’s seeing.”