New Zealand company on a mission to make stock photos less American

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Nan Wehipeihana (Ngāti Tukorehe, Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Porou and Te Whānau-ā-Apanui) was just looking for a photo of a Maori that didn’t look like it was taken by an American tourist.

Wehipeihana is the director of Research Evaluation Consultancy, a small firm that undertakes research for government and iwi groups, specializing in Kaupapa Māori issues.

It was important to Wehipeihana that the photos of his research reflect everyday Maori. But, because she couldn’t afford a bespoke photoshoot, she turned to stock footage. US-based stock libraries have been a disappointment.

“While these large stock libraries are suitable for landscapes or natural landscapes, for people they really miss the boat,” Wehipeihana said.

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Part of the problem was how quickly and freely American companies played with terms like “Maori,” says Wehipeihana.

“When I searched for words like ‘Maori’ or ‘Whanau’, the people in the photos were often Mexican or Brazilian.

“Or if they were Maori, it would be pictures of kapa haka or at the marae. I just wanted a simple picture of Maori doing everyday things,” says Wehipeihana.

Nan Wepeihana struggled to find archival photos of Maori doing everyday things.

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Nan Wepeihana struggled to find archival photos of Maori doing everyday things.

After searching all over the internet, Wehipeihana found a solution in a small New Zealand startup called Truestock.

Truestock was founded by Auckland-based designer Tanmay Desai to represent New Zealand’s cultural diversity in the US-dominated stock footage industry.

“The pictures you see in American libraries are just not representative of who New Zealanders are and what we look like,” says Desai.

Tan Desai was fed up with US stock photos looking fake and out of place at local businesses.

Chris McKeen / Stuff

Tan Desai was fed up with US stock photos looking fake and out of place at local businesses.

The influence of US corporations gave stock images a reputation for being fake and inauthentic, a reputation that Truestock worked hard to combat, Desai says.

“We want our images to capture real moments and real people doing real things. We do this by, A, authentically representing New Zealand, and B, by giving our photographers the license to shoot as they wish.

“Our images don’t look like stock footage, they look like high quality campaign footage. If they look like a stock image, we did something wrong,” Desai says.

Another point of difference with American image companies is the way photographers and talent are treated.

Truestock is a cooperative enterprise, which means that the photographers who contribute to the image library are shareholders of the company and receive a share of the profits made by Truestock, as well as voting rights in the operation of the company.

Photographers also receive a 50% commission when their photos are purchased by companies, the highest stock library commission in the world, Desai said.

“Most archival libraries pay their photographers a 10-20% commission, if they don’t pay them at all. Since each photographer is a small business/entrepreneur in their own right, we felt we had to give them a fair share of the profits and a say in the direction of the business,” Desai said.

True Stock ensures that everyone involved in their images is compensated fairly, from the models in the photos to the photographers themselves.

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True Stock ensures that everyone involved in their images is compensated fairly, from the models in the photos to the photographers themselves.

The company also had a system to ensure that all models and actors in photos were paid fairly.

“Most stock libraries let the photographer’s talent pay for sorting, which can cause a lot of people you see in stock images to struggle to get paid. We decided to make sure the talent be paid, by True Stock first, whether the image is sold or not. This is to ensure that everyone involved in the process is treated fairly,” Desai said.

But for small-business owners like Wehipeihana, Truestock offers a way to accurately reflect New Zealand’s diverse cultures that are harder to find in American photo libraries.

“To me, having genuine, authentic photos that capture and reflect what it means to be Maori is awesome,” Wehipeihana said.

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