Every time Lindsay Schrupp watched for stock photos of transgender people to illustrate stories for Vice, she found stereotypical images: trans and non-binary people wearing makeup or trying on a bra. There’s little diversity when it comes to race or body size — “they’re almost always female, and mostly white,” says Vice’s Broadly editor Schrupp. Stock images do not depict trans and non-binary people playing sports or going to work. Has largely contributed to this erasure by running images of trans and non-binary people that have been selectively cropped, to isolate body parts or not show faces, Schrupp says. “If we wanted to write about the Trump administration’s attack on trans rights, we were limited in fact to who we could show,” she adds.
Frustrated by these limitations, Schrupp and his colleagues at Broadly created a photo library with images of transgender and non-binary people, to increase the visibility of these communities. The stock photo library, which is called The Gender Spectrum Collection: Stock Photos Beyond Binary, debuts today and consists of 180 photos of trans and non-binary people. A photo shows an African American model wearing a white shirt, sitting behind a desk and using a laptop computer. Another shows a model undergoing a physical examination in a doctor’s office. On each photo there is a description of the image, including the gender identity of the person or persons in the photo to prevent gender errors by users of this service.
The photoshoots, Schrupp explains, were organized around themes: work, relationships, technology, health, lifestyle and moods. “We really wanted to show that trans people are real people with lives lived to their fullest,” Schrupp says. “And we wanted to represent trans and non-binary people in positions of power, as doctors and CEOs.”
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A 2016 Williams Institute study valued that 1.4 million Americans identify as transgender. Yet, Schrupp says, gender-nonconforming communities aren’t adequately represented in stock image collections. The New York Times reported last year that Getty, the world’s largest stock photo library, saw searches for “gender fluid” images triple from June 2017 to June 2018. In March 2018, Adobe shared a archival image gallery titled “The Fluid Self”. to better provide this He called “a broad and fluid spectrum of identities.”
vice goes open its photo library under a Creative Commons license for use by other media organizations. “WWe wanted to start helping the rest of the industry take responsibility as well,” Schrupp says. “And we know the media can still do better to avoid harmful stereotypes by avoiding gender errors.”
Rachel Schallom, Vice’s editor-in-chief, says working with transgender and non-binary people was an integral part of this project, not least because their images will be free to use online. “As we were already dealing with a marginalized community, we wanted to make sure our models clearly understood all the risks involved,” she says. Vice has discussed these risks with all models. Vice has also worked with photographer Zackary Drucker, a trans woman, as well as trans and non-binary illustrators and editors. “My main concern as a photographer is making sure my subjects are comfortable, especially when it comes to subjects that are always considered outsiders,” says Drucker.
Broadly’s work is far from done, Schrupp says. She hopes the library will grow over time and they plan to reach out to other media outlets to encourage them to use their images.
But Schrupp hopes the project will help other outlets come up with similar projects and think critically about how they portray people. “By limiting our representation of trans and non-binary people, we also limit the range of stories in which we can imagine them,” she says. “Archival photos can do more than just illustrate. They have the power to shape the perceptions of entire communities.
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Zainab Sultan is a former CJR Delacorte Fellow. Follow her on Twitter @ZainabSultan.
TOP IMAGE: A non-binary person using a laptop at work. Credit: Zackary Drucker/VICE