When Getty Images saw there weren’t enough positive images of women of color, they put their creativity into action.
Currently, more than 80% of photographers are white. Often criticized as only being accessible to the elite, white, and wealthy, the art community has struggled to make careers in the arts lucrative and sustainable for creatives that come from different socioeconomic backgrounds. Getty Images has spent years trying to change that.
“We’ve always been committed to making sure that the emerging in minority photographers have the financial support they need to do their work,” says Tristen Norman, head of Creative Research at Americas at Getty Images. “But beyond that, we’re also committed to producing the right content and working with our incredibly large contributor community to do so.”
Getty Images is amplifying beautiful imagery of diverse communities by working to put women of color both in front of and behind the camera.
To grapple with the very real glass ceiling in the art community — particularly in film and photography — that often impedes artists of color from pursuing the arts full-time, Getty created two fellowships to get more women of color behind the camera. The Women Photograph Grant and the ARRAY Grant are designed to foster and elevate female photojournalists from underrepresented communities.
“We’re acknowledging our issues out loud, and we’re taking those steps to correct the issues,” explains Norman. “I’m pumped about the grant programs, as they represent a more formal step that we’re taking to address these challenges, specifically those for underrepresented communities of color that experience a lot of systemic and economic and inequities.”
One of the staff photographers currently carrying out the mission toward more inclusive artwork is photographer Naila Ruechel.
Ruechel has created stunning, bold, and bright images of women of color — a huge step toward representation and inclusion in the photojournalism industry.
“I think image making is a powerful tool that can really influence society,” says Ruechel. “If we don’t support diversity, we risk becoming more and more narrow-minded. We need diverse voices to broaden our understanding and acceptance of each other.”
Ruechel’s work serves as a powerful counternarrative to years of women of color being told they don’t meet society’s standards of beauty and femininity. Unsatisfied with black identity constantly being tied to slavery, she has advocated for photojournalism that shows women of color in beautiful, nuanced ways.
To achieve this goal, she knows that it requires putting women of color in front of and behind the camera to translate those diverse stories to a series of photos.
“I think if we demystify groups that are considered ‘different,’ we will encourage people to simply look at each other as what we are — humans,” Ruechel says. “What I’m trying to achieve with my work is to humanize groups of people whose image have been largely misused, misrepresented, and/or underrepresented.”
The industry’s pervasive misrepresentations come from a fraught history between white photographers and communities of color.
For decades, women of color have largely been ignored in the high-fashion and high-art industries. Considering them subhuman or lesser-than, many major media companies have often failed to showcase indigenous communities and people of color in normal, human ways, instead catering to stereotypical tropes and problematic typecasts to appeal to antiquated ideas of what it means to be a person of color.
Most recently, National Geographic became one of the first mainstream media publications to formally apologize for these depictions. In an article titled “For Decades, Our Coverage Was Racist. To Rise Above Our Past, We Must Acknowledge It,” editor-in-chief Susan Goldberg called for much-need changes in visual depictions of people of color:
“I want a future editor of National Geographic to look back at our coverage with pride — not only about the stories we decided to tell and how we told them but about the diverse group of writers, editors, and photographers behind the work.”
Getty has worked to create an archive of photos of strong, empowered women throughout multiple decades of history, and they want to take their commitment to inclusion even further.
“The very fact someone like me — a black woman with a multitude of other intersecting identities — has joined the creative team at Getty Images is a good indication that things are moving in the right direction within the industry,” explains Ruechel. “That an organization of this size and visibility is so committed to ensuring that diverse talent is shaping their creative both inside and out is an incredible step in the right direction. There’s still so much work to do, but the opening and welcoming of my seat and many others at the table is powerful and important.”
Artwork and photojournalism aren’t the only ways to shift the images that people see and the way they think.
A recent British study found that minority groups are represented in less than 20% of brand campaigns.
John Antoniello, a creative director at Sapientrazorfish, thinks that advertising may be one way to continue moving this mission forward. Having worked for various social awareness campaigns, such as HeForShe and Partnership for Drug Free America, Antoniello is aware of just how powerful a role marketing can play in getting society to value diverse imagery.
“I think, at large, the advertising industry is kind of now starting to make this turn, and I think it’s going to be interesting to see how these large brands deal with this sort of new world that we live in,” says Antoniello. “We have so many new companies and startups that are honing in on not only the kinds of people that they want to talk to but also the values that they stand for.”
Ruechel, Norman, and Antoniello make one thing very clear: It takes a lot of key players with similar values to make real progress.
When creating diverse imagery is both a priority and a value, we get closer to normalizing this type of imagery for mass audiences.
When organizations challenge themselves to increase diversity in front of and behind the camera, they signal that our ideas of beauty, culture, and everyday life need to include the experiences of all people.
When we do this, not only do we get beautiful art, we also create media that is representative of our full, incredible society.
We weren’t paid to write this post. (We would tell you if we were!) We just think the work that Getty Images is doing is important and very cool.