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Getty Images and GLAAD team up for new transgender photo guidelines

New guidelines developed by one of the largest stock photo agencies and a national LGBTQ group aim to improve representation of the transgender community.
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The guidelines hope to give trans individuals more exposure by making available stock images of them doing everyday things.Alex Farfuri / Getty Images

Photographers around the world now have access to new guidelines aimed at helping them more accurately capture transgender subjects in their stock and commercial imagery. The guidelines were released Wednesday by Getty Images, one of the world’s largest stock photo agencies, and GLAAD, a national LGBTQ advocacy organization.

Stock images are photos that are licensed for use in a variety of places — from corporate websites to advertising campaigns and even on news sites. Examples could range from an image of child models playing with a toy for a retail company’s catalog to a photo of Hong Kong’s skyline for a news article about the world’s most expensive cities.

Nick Adams, GLAAD’s director of transgender representation, said the wide reach of Getty’s clients (NBC News among them) will hopefully mean people around the world will be exposed to — and eventually accustomed to — seeing transgender people in a variety of visual campaigns and stories that go beyond those that are specifically about transgender people. The guidelines hope to give trans individuals — who experience a disproportionate amount of discrimination and violence — exposure by making available stock images of them doing everyday things, like getting a cup of coffee or shopping with friends.

Stock photo showing a portrait of a senior transgender person.trisha ward / Getty Images

“In the past, trans images in stock photography have included many tropes and cliches or even replaced actual transgender people with impersonal symbols like flags,” Adams said.

“Stock images tell a story without words,” he added. “When those images don't reflect the full diversity that exists within the transgender community, then our story isn't being told in an authentic way.”

Getty Images said there has been a demand from editorial and advertising clients for photos of transgender, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming people in its stock and editorial photo library, based on internal metrics, which prompted the company to begin working with GLAAD this year. Images in Getty’s library are used mainly for advertising, in-house corporate imagery and news and entertainment stories.

All of Getty’s contributors around the world will have access to the new guidelines, which have been translated into multiple languages, according to Guy Merrill, global head of art at Getty Images and iStock.

The guidelines cover a variety of different creative aspects for stock photos and ensure that models have control over how they are referred to in captions, making sure no assumptions are made about their gender identities. Additionally, photographers have a set of guidelines to make transgender subjects feel comfortable and empowered on set.

Merrill stressed that simply shooting trans people in stock photography is not enough, adding that there has to be an effort to consistently include the community in photographs and ensure that harmful stereotypes about trans people are not perpetuated. The goal of the partnership between Getty and GLAAD, he added, is to empower trans people in the realm of stock imagery, not use their likeness for any narrative.

Merrill admitted that when Getty looked through its archives over the last five or six years, the company found “very little, if any” photos of the trans community and described the ones that were in the company’s archive as “tokenistic.”

“We are not looking for our contributors to go out and just shoot some portraits of transgender persons. That is not the point at all,” Merrill said. “It's that level of nuance that brings in that authenticity in terms of people you choose. It is all those small moments that really kind of authentically tell that broader story.”

Gillian Branstetter, founding member of the Trans Journalist Association, said the new guidelines “could be really beneficial for both trans people who want to see our lived experiences in the world around us” and “cisgender people as well.”

“I think a lot of reporting tends to treat trans people as if we live in a vacuum and live on a separate planet and we don’t interact with the systems that cis people do,” she told NBC News. “I think the press, and photographers as well, could play a huge part in showing who trans people are instead of focusing on what’s most sensationalized and exploitative.”

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