Maybe you are familiar with the phenomenon that people surround themselves with other people who are, basically, like themselves. I am a lawyer beside being a microstock contributor and as such I am no stranger to this. A few years ago my friends (more or less) looked like me, they talked like me, we shared the same opinions. We belonged to the same age cohort, had similar familiar backgrounds as well as comparable socioeconomic status. Most were lawyers. With a bit of luck somebody was married to something exotic like a doctor or teacher. It was, basically, a form of voluntary segregation.
There is nothing inherently bad in this as it makes life easy and predictable. But also a bit dull. Parties and such tend to become one big group think event. Discussions no longer serve the purpose of exchanging arguments but become a way of reassuring each other that everybody still belongs to the same group.
Microstock as a window to other people’s lifes
Rather unexpectedly what changed all of this for me was photography. Microstock photography to be more precise. But how so?
In the mid of the 2000s I became professionally involved in microstock acting as legal counsel to two agencies. Fun work. I liked the business principle a lot and thought I’d give it a try as a contributor, too. That is how Kzenon, first as my nom de guerre, now as an established business, came into being. I was running microstock productions now.
From the very beginning I tried to shoot a very broad mix of topics with diverse people. People from very different backgrounds, with different ethnicities and age groups. And all with their unique outlook on life shaped by where they come from and what they have been through. Microstock begs this kind of approach. Diversity is king. And you really have to work with your models. They are no runway models whom you tell what to do and that is it. Rather they are the specialists in the field you want to work on.
If you shoot professions and want to do carpentry themed photos, it is a good idea sign up a real carpenter as the model. He will look very authentic. But he will direct you more than you will direct him – simply because you as a photographer will most likely have no clue of the subject matter of the shoot. So there will be communication in both directions. And if such a thing happens both sides will have to be open and willing to learn.
After ten years in the business I ran productions in nine countries on three continents. I made friends with policeman, firefighters, teachers, beauticians, hairdressers, medical professors, tax advisors, telephone service technicians, mothers, fathers, children of all sorts, nurses, seniors living in pensioner’s homes, and tons of other people in all walks of and situations in life with very diverse cultural and religious backgrounds. In fact, I brag to myself about having such a broad circle of friends.
Needless to say: I learned a lot. And I think that my outlook on life broadened also considerably. Not because I desperately wanted to but as an unintended side effect of my new line of business. I still have my old friends and we still kind of look and think the same, I just made new friends as well. And I value that experience highly.
Do you have a similar story to share? Let us know in the comment section below!
The title image this time cannot be bought at any stock agency as it is a make-of from an photo shoot 2015 in Jakarta. Cheers to Roy, Karin, Richard, Jeff, Nela, Jimbod, Choir, and Adit!
I have one recommended read on a much broader and much less playful version of the phenomenon: The other side is not dumb. Sean puts segregation, group think and echo chambers in the context of our culture of political and social communication. He argues we should listen to the “other side” as well and acknowledge that people who think differently are not dumb.