Creators working in the stock media industry wield tremendous interpretive power over the subjects, themes, and narratives they explore in their work. Understanding this influence, they can construct more accessible spaces for their audiences and collaborators while developing aesthetics that accurately represent our world. Below are our 7 best practices for lens-based artists working with queer models both in and out of stock media applications.
1. Develop your concept
Before picking up a camera, it’s important to establish a clear concept for models in advance of the shoot. Concepting doesn’t have to be complicated. A simple overview and consultation to explore a model’s relationship to your photographic offering before the session can help set up the shoot for success. This collaborative process allows them to share their experiences and further inform the creative concept.
Within the concepting phase, it’s particularly important to avoid framing shoot concepts within qualities and context clichés.
2. Quality Control
Qualities like flamboyance, promiscuity, and recklessness have been attributed to LGBTQ+ communities across time and used to vilify and subjugate specific members and sub-groups within the broader queer diaspora. Though many LGBTQ+ folks feel personally empowered by these traits, the stereotypes attached to them flatten their rich lived experiences and have become harmful fixtures for contextualizing queer culture on a global scale. The application of degrading stereotypes to queer themes in stock media upholds cis- & heteronormativity as the sole operative forms of sexual and gender identity, which dismantles universal rights to human self-determination. It can be challenging to find ways to transcend stereotypes in visual media
3. Context Awareness
Specific settings and events have also been the subject of clichés and conflated with queerness in damaging ways. For example, we often see images of queer people dancing wildly in nightclubs. These settings have been associated with sexual promiscuity, predation, and drug use and attributed to the queer community at large. The cumulative effect of these associations has fused aesthetic queerness with villainy, suspicion, and malevolence. Similar to the ways some queer folks have reclaimed derogatory language for personal empowerment, queer communities depend on safe spaces like queer clubs, raves, and other settings in nightlife to celebrate, exchange, and grow their culture. When photographing queer individuals in environments that are subject to homophobic scrutiny, it’s important to understand with whom the right to authorship belongs—whose story is being told? Is it being told truthfully? Artists can recontextualize traditionally heteronormative settings to alter stereotypes and provide unique insights to complexities in identity.
4. Intersectional Awareness
Modern representations of queerness are nuanced, focusing on the universality of human experience, rather than using a set of default labels to portray whole communities of people. At Stocksy we’re seeing a growth in demand for images of queer people in everyday scenarios and creatives are answering this demand by using unconventional concepts like spectrums, wavelengths, and refractions to form more vibrant and expressive definitions of queerness. It’s key to challenge labels and communicate deeper meanings about the intersection of identity and personal history in stock media.
5. Managing expectations and discomfort
Even the most experienced models feel tension in front of cameras from time to time. Regardless of experience, many variables shape a person’s comfort level in photographic settings. Photographers can aim to structure sessions in such a way that it optimizes ease through the duration of the shoot.
When working with models in-studio or on-location, there are a few simple offerings to enhance accessibility and comfort during the session.
- Make sure to have water available throughout and consider having snacks on hand during breaks—this is especially true for long photo shoots.
- Take breaks! Everybody wants them and they can be used to review images, discuss comfort levels throughout the shoot, and set a game plan for the following shots.
- Not everyone is open to changing in front of others, so plan to have a private changing room or area available during the shoot. This also applies to restrooms—with the additional understanding that the absence of gender-neutral restroom options can force people of gender-variant experience into positions of disclosure, which can be uncomfortable and often dangerous.
- Disclosing pronouns is a personal choice for both photographers and models. Pronouns can be unique to each person and are no longer confined to binary formats like she/her and he/him. Some individuals use they/them pronouns or a combination of binary and non-binary markers to identify their gender. Neopronouns are also growing in popularity because they tend to be more personalized to the user. A common neopronoun is xe/xem/xyr, though they can be as varied as fern/ferns/fernself. Even if someone is comfortable sharing parts of their identity, they may not want to during the session for any number of reasons. Open the floor by offering personal pronouns—this signifies an understanding that the ways we relate to gender identity are as varied as personalities from person to person—but one shouldn’t expect any model or talent to do the same.
6. Engage your curiosity, and theirs
Consider asking the models, “how and when have you felt most comfortable in front of the camera?” This broad question helps to give an idea of their past experiences on-camera and identifies potential strengths in a shoot that could expand their comfort. Ask models to list a few words that best describe how they prefer to be seen in images and why. This could provide fodder for direction during the shoot, but may also help models zero in on how they might embody themselves more fully in front of the camera, too. Physicality and verbal cues can be formative to the studio atmosphere. Are there specific directions, positions, or actions that make them uncomfortable? Find ways to avoid implementing them while sharing space with models.
7. People over profit
When creating content with queer models or motifs, consider not only the primary gaze—that of the photographer, which is never objective—but also that of the broader audience: clientele, consumers, and the general public. The way images are described online can affect the way audiences relate to and consume photographic content. Select keywords and language that support the model’s identity and presentation. While terms like “transsexual,” “girl-boy/boy-girl,” and other similar phrases are acceptable identifiers in some parts of the world, North American queer communities tend to view these terms as antiquated and derogatory. A rapidly evolving culture has helped to usher different terms to the foreground, like “transgender,” “two-spirit,” and “non-binary,”. These identifiers are growing in popularity for their specificity to different socio-cultural aspects of queer life and their ability to speak to a less concrete experience of navigating the world. Queerness is subject to local variations, so engaging in local LGBTQ+ communities helps determine the best descriptive phrases and identifiers for assets.
Creators today help define culture for mass consumption and must do so with outstanding comprehension and due diligence. The landscape of stock media is evolving as quickly as we are and it has never been more important to tell truthful stories about humanity than now. In this creative expanse, we have much to learn about the ways we limit or enhance access to our work. Perhaps our most helpful tool on this new frontier is genuine curiosity—for the crucible of the past, our multifaceted present, and that which we are constantly creating—our future.