Photo realism

Stock images. They are one of the most boring and least glamorous aspects of making a newspaper.

Stock images. They are one of the most boring and least glamorous aspects of making a newspaper. But they’re often necessary, and now that the COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult to safely photograph interviewees, we at The Uniter have needed to utilize them much more frequently.

Fortunately, there’s no shortage of available stock images. Many generous photographers and illustrators from around the world submit their work to royalty-free stock-image databases, making it easy and affordable for publications in our position to find suitable images on short notice.

Many artists have seized on this current moment, making COVID-specific images available on these databases. I don’t want to disparage these hardworking people who have made their work accessible for free. But, there’s one glaring problem with COVID stock photos that I can’t seem to shake.

Everyone just seems so darn pleasant.

I’m sure there probably are people out there in the world who are weathering this pandemic with grace and aplomb, but I don’t know any of them. We’re harried, exhausted and suffering from cabin fever. So why don’t the images about this time reflect those realities?

Most university students are studying from home right now. I don’t suspect many of them live in spacious apartments, designed in the sleekest modern décor, while sipping a cappuccino with an immaculate heart shape in the foam. I’m pretty sure the only people who know how to do that are the baristas who’ve been laid off, and if I were in their shoes, I wouldn’t be pouring foam hearts unless someone were paying me to. You shouldn’t take your work home.

And the smiles. Everyone is just so happy to be cooped up, writing a mid-term from their designer couch. Not polite smiles, but the kind of warm “my soul is content and I want for nothing” smiles that I haven’t seen since models in the Sears Wish Book were showing off how their flannel bathrobes had erased every ounce of anxiety.

A plea to the photographers of the world: find some models with bags under their eyes. If you’re photographing someone picking up groceries with a mask on, or riding a bus while social distancing, put them in pyjama pants and ask them not to wash their hair. Let us see ourselves. And, I beg you, no more foam hearts.

Published in Volume 75, Number 11 of The Uniter (November 26, 2020)

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