CreativeReview

The surprising depths to be discovered in stock libraries

Here is another part of the world. Here is your large automobile. Here is your beautiful house. Here is your beautiful wife. Here is your miniature dog dressed like Satan for some reason.

I’ve been clicking my way around this stock library for hours now, looking for that one perfect shot. The image that I need is in here somewhere, I’m certain, but so far I’ve found nothing. Well, not nothing – I’ve successfully found the ‘Pictures of Chihuahuas Dressed as Things’ collection. I’m not really sure how that happened.

I have a love/hate thing with stock libraries. They offer a window onto a parallel universe, one governed by the laws of commerce and interpretation and genericism. Clichés abound, but that makes it kind of hypnotic – one familiar/odd photograph after another. There is a uniform, uncanny surreality to everything; as if all life has been reflected and distilled to its most basic symbolic form. Perhaps that next ‘related images’ thumbnail will be perfect? Can’t stop clicking now.

If you spend too long in here – and I always do – you start to think that perhaps all of this really is an accurate portrayal of the outside world. Could I escape to this ideal place, my every waking moment a carefully considered visual aphorism? Would this break from reality be so bad?

(…and I wake to an improbable spread of pastries and fruit and sunshine, which I eat whilst laughing at my phone, and after a few glorious moments of watching a sapling grow from the clump of soil cradled in my child’s hands, it’s off to work for a busy day of standing imperiously in front of a vast blackboard covered with meaningless equations, and then a lunch of downright hilarious food, after which my perfectly-diverse colleagues and I huddle together to busy ourselves with essential group tasks such as pointing at a single laptop and laughing at a single laptop and frowning within the vicinity of a single laptop, and once we’ve wrapped things up with enthusiastic thumbs-upping and air-punching, it’s back home for an evening of highlighting inspirational words in a dictionary and….)

Still, as long as you don’t lose your mind, the world of stock exists for a good reason. Distracted people chopping vegetables; women ignored by men over tech gadgets; business people using megaphones … it’s easy to mock, but these self-perpetuating, recycled ideas are simply the inevitable result of supply and demand. The more they’re used, the more their meaning becomes universal, and the more they become part of a wider language. Stock tropes are essentially advanced emoji; a lexicon for the modern world that may not be subtle, but can at least be universally understood. It’s all down to how you use it – if your job is to communicate ideas, why not use a common dialect?

The trick is to find that one perfect shot, but not the same one perfect shot that everyone else considers to be perfect. You have to search around the image you want, sneak up on it, find it in a way that it doesn’t want to be found. This kind of lateral searching is an art in itself. It’s time-consuming and it can lead you down an awful lot of dead ends…. Here is a chihuahua dressed as a luchador. Here is a chihuahua dressed as a surgeon. Here is a chihuahua dressed a cop. What was it I was searching for again?

This always happens. The stock library is your friend, but sooner or later, the costumed chihuahuas will find you. Or sometimes, if not them, it’ll be the pugs in hats.

Daniel Benneworth-Gray is a freelance designer based in York. See danielgray.com and @gray

The post The surprising depths to be discovered in stock libraries appeared first on Creative Review.