Black people demonstrate their love for one another with compassion. Black people find joy playing with children. Black folks cross the country and the globe to travel to exciting places. But finding stock photos of regular black people engaging in everyday activities is often challenging.
Media content creators including bloggers, publishers and public relations specialists rely on stock imaging companies’ photos for representations of black life. Porsha Antalan, an Atlanta-based photographer, wanted to fill the gap of the under-representation of black people in stock photography so she founded BRWN Stock Imaging.
The photo stock imaging company aims to capture “the vibrant beauty of our people” and provide “quality images for people like us.”
“You can go on any major stock website and you can look up just simple things like people riding bikes in the park or people going to the movies and what are you going to find? You’re going to find mostly white couples. You’re not going to find any people of color,” Antalan said. “I figured we can’t keep waiting on these big stock websites. So why don’t I create a site where you are guaranteed to find people who look like you.”
Antalan, who has been a photographer for eight years, launched the company on June 26, her birthday, after talking to her client author Christina C. Jones about the dearth of available stock images that reflect black romance. “Some clients used to buy stock photos and photoshop them to look like black people,” said Antalan, 29. “It was that serious.”
It’s important to have black joy, black love and black beauty represented in all mediums, Antalan said, and she’s working to create images that reflect all of black life - not just the stereotypes. The high-quality photos on the BRWN Stock Imaging website showcase striking images. They can be purchased directly on the company’s website. Antalan also accepts contributions from other photographers and holds casting calls for models with and without experience.
BRWN Stock Imaging has a myriad of black people represented in its photos, Antalan said. “We want to represent all spectrums of our color,” she said. “I wanted to go with the black girls that I’m around. I want you to know that they’re black and I don’t want you to ever question what their ethnicity, race is.”
The visuals that the BRWN Stock Imaging produces are important because the company is among the few stock imaging companies that creates images of black love, said Christina C. Jones, an independent romance novelist based in Conway, Arkansas. Jones used Antalan’s photos for the covers of her romance novels before and she continues to purchase photos through BRWN Stock Imaging.
“It was really hard to find any images of black couples or images that could convey that this is a love story and when I did find those images they were cheesy, outdated and you could tell that it was something that was just thrown together and that was something that I didn’t want for my work,” Jones said. “Because the supply was so limited for them you would see the same images over and over among everybody in our black romance community. Those same images would get recycled over and over because that was all that was available for us.”
The images that BRWN Stock Imaging provides independent content creators with the visuals that portray their work accurately, Jones said. “All of my peers in this black romance community need this so we can put forth imagery that really represents our characters and the work we’re trying to put forth,” she said.
The lack of variety in images in stock photos reflects a larger issue of diversity within the photography industry, said veteran photographer Velvet S. McNeil, owner of Velvet Multimedia based in Camden County, New Jersey and former chair of the National Association of Black Journalists’ Visual Task Force.
“People photograph people who look like them and they feel very comfortable doing so. We as a society don’t have that many people of color creating images,” McNeil said. “So you have less people making images or thinking even of people of all nationalities. So the issue has to do with the diversity of the staff or freelancers that are contributing to the source.”
The scarcity of images of black people in stock photography is creating new opportunities for black photographers.
Stock photography photos end up on billboards, pamphlets, fliers and a variety of places. By having images of black people engaging in everyday activities circulating widely Antalan hopes to disrupt the idea that images of white people are the universal default that represents everyone.
“Things don’t become normal until you make it a norm,” she said. “It’s all about normalizing the black experience.”