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How & Why: Equitable Representation in Film and Photo Projects

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Browsing through stock images and video footage, it can be difficult to find pictures and video that represent the full expression of people, cultures, and experiences that make up this world. Representation, and misrepresentation, matter; Here’s how and why you should be giving it careful thought when putting together your video or photo project.

Why Representation Matters

Representation in film and photo projects should be diverse because life is diverse. If we exclude women, or transgendered people, or people of colour, or the differently-abled (physically and cognitively) from our projects, then we’re basically saying there is no place for those people in real life. It’s important that both who is on-camera and who is behind the lens continues to become more inclusive.

Humanity Includes All Kinds of People, Outlooks and Experiences

Film-making and photography are still dominated by white men.

Say you’re looking for stock footage of high-level executives for a project: I know from experience that on stock sites you’ll mostly find middle-aged white men when you search. If we then use that footage—you can understand how that occurs, when there’s no alternative—what happens?

Small group of people in brightly lit room dressed in suits sitting at a glass table listening to a presentationSmall group of people in brightly lit room dressed in suits sitting at a glass table listening to a presentationSmall group of people in brightly lit room dressed in suits sitting at a glass table listening to a presentation
Listening to a Lecture by Pressmaster, from Envato Elements

Not only are we perpetuating the idea that only white, male faces are suitable for positions of success and responsibility, but we’re also saying to stock sites that these white, male faces are what we want more of. We get stuck in a loop.

That same dynamic plays out in all kinds of situations. It can exacerbate injustice and exploitation by subtly (and not so subtly) excluding and dehumanising groups of people.

How to Create Equitable Representation in Your Own Film and Photo Projects

Diversity is Strength: Avoid Tokenism, Celebrate Difference

It’s all well and good saying be more inclusive in your images or video, but it's important to be very deliberate in your choices. Adding in someone simply for the marketing angle without understanding the dynamics of representation is obvious and insulting. The thing is, if something is out of our direct experience then sometimes, we just don’t know, and that’s okay, but it’s important to ask those who do know.

A recent advert from British Airways sums this up quite well, gathering people from different backgrounds to showcase Britain.

Avoid Stereotypes, Celebrate Complexity

Perpetuating stereotypes can verge from the disrespectful to the outright racist, sexist, ableist, or elitist, and we should always be conscious that we’re representing people fairly. For example, a search term of ‘gang’ shouldn’t bring up pictures that play on stereotypes about racialised young men.

Gendered beauty norms are another powerful example: There was a news story recently about a man who went to buy his daughter a football shirt, only to find the male models pictured were sporty footballers and the model for the women’s version was positioned as ‘sexy’ rather than sporty.

This is a type of reductive, destructive imagery, based on pigeonholing people into longstanding prejudices, tropes and assumptions. It can creep in to, well, sadly, everything. It’s up each of to us to consider not just the aesthetic or commercial aspects of our work, but also how our images will impact real people; viewers and the people we depict.

Make the Change

It’s corny as heck, but change starts with each of us, and the only way we’re going to see better representation in film and photography is if we push for it, both in our own photos and videos and on the projects we work on. Small things, like how you shoot your own footage or what you choose to represent in your stock images, can be the start that makes a big difference.

Envato Elements

Envato Elements has a growing library of stock photography and stock footage by a diverse group of authors and contributors from around the world. You can download as much as you like for a monthly subscription and it’s being added to all the time.

If you make great content that you want to sell, you might also consider becoming an author on Envato Elements.

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