Why this stock photo collection with non-binary models is so important

Whether you’re conscious of it or not, stock pictures are a big part of our lives. Many of the articles you see are full of these photos, meaning they inform how you read stories – and also how you see the world at large.

Unfortunately, there’s a problem with the photographs which illustrate much of what we read. They tend to be full of one type of person: cisgender, heterosexual, white and slim.

A group of friends of varying genders taking selfies (The Gender Spectrum Collection/PA)

Now, there’s a new stock image library which wants to add a bit more diversity into the mix. Broadly – a subsection of the media company Vice – has created the Gender Spectrum Collection. It calls it a “stock photo library featuring images of trans and non-binary models that go beyond the clichés of putting on makeup and holding trans flags.”

Why has it done this? “This collection aims to help media outlets better represent members of these communities as people not necessarily defined by their gender identities — people with careers, relationships, talents, passions, and home lives.”

The New York Times reported in October last year that the most-used photo of a transgender person from Getty Images features the trans pride symbol and obscures most of the model’s face. Both the second and third most-used pictures also featured the symbol, not the person.

A transgender woman in a hospital gown speaking to her doctor, a transgender man (The Gender Spectrum Collection/PA)

A lot of the other photos on stock libraries don’t show trans people going about their daily lives – it tends to be just the person on a plain background, focusing on their gender rather than their identity. Representation of trans people in the media is definitely imperfect, and the Gender Spectrum Collection is the first step to showing trans and non-binary people as the well-rounded people they are.

This library has categories like lifestyle, relationships, technology, work, school, health and moods.

Two non-binary students doing work together in class (The Gender Spectrum Collection/PA)

Hopefully, this means that stories which involve transgender people can be properly illustrated – with actual faces of transgender people, rather than just symbols. It normalises the bodies of trans people, and shows any trans men or women out there that they have a place in society.

These photographs aren’t just to illustrate stories about trans and non-binary people. They can be used to illustrate any story, and give a better non-binary representation in the media in general.

However, anyone who uses the library should be careful – Broadly says: “Understanding the stereotypes and tropes that have accompanied transgender media representation — such as trans subjects being cast only as sex workers, portrayed solely in states of apparent victimhood or crisis, and being characterised as deceptive and mentally unstable — can help you to avoid them.”

A transmasculine gender-nonconforming person and transfeminine non-binary person drinking coffee in bed (The Gender Spectrum Collection/PA)

Most major photo libraries charge for their pictures to be used, but the Gender Spectrum Collection is freely available for media organisations. Hopefully it’s a step in the right direction for diversity, and will help portray non-binary people in a way that’s more true to life.

- Press Association

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