Emergence of Stock Photography, 1930 – 1970
Between 1930 and 1970, small studios and agencies served a diverse range of businesses in the editorial, historical, scientific, journalistic, educational, and commercial sectors in the United States and in Europe (Frosh, 2003). These small studios realized the opportunity of the increase in demand for stock photography and built up stock collections. However, the stock photography business remained fragmented, partly because of existing cumbersome archiving, presentation and distribution systems.
In the early twentieth century, innovations in image capturing technologies and journalism gave rise to different forms of photographic collections. Frosh (2003) categorizes the following forms as historical antecedents: news archives, private collections, and photo studio outtakes (leftovers or unused images from commissioned assignments). Photographers began to commercialize these collection forms and gradually began to create their networks with picture agency organizations; either establishing their own agencies or signing contracts with established agencies.
Both Matthias Bruhn (2003) and Philip Krayna (1996) point out that in the early 1930s, commercial photography became a fast growing business. Editors and advertisers started to use commercial images to enhance their respective lines of work. A lot of newspapers and advertisements became illustrated with professionally taken and distributed photographs. Although the number of commercial photographers was dramatically increasing, it was not cost-efficient to hire a competent photographer for every specific purpose.
From Picture Libraries to Picture Agencies
A young commercial photographer in Manhattan George Marks realized the increasing demand for multi-purpose commercial photos. He moved quickly, and, in 1931, his service of providing the storage of pictures at his small studio, The Black Box, took off. Marks, seeing an opportunity to increase his earnings, transformed his business entirely to create stock photography. He first used the outtakes of his assignments. He was taking pictures of his models with the rights to the future reproduction and distribution. In a short time, he made an impressive collection and filed his work under such categories as “travel” and “business”. Small advertising and design agencies, newspapers, calendar printers, and other clients along the East Coast were the first clients of his stock photographs. Marks was a forward thinking businessperson and he was able to fulfill the requirements of his clients with a wide stock photography collection. His company served as a model for the dozens of other stock agencies that would later emerge. (Krayna, 1996)
According to Helen Wilkinson (1997), stock photography in Great Britain was almost following the same path as it was in the United States. Both countries were dominating the world in communication technologies, so their social, economic, and technologic requirements and development were in line with each other. In 1926, a British photographer George Mewes founded Photographic Advertising Limited. The studio had a large library of stock photographs and varied portfolio of clients. Mewes established a strong corporate identity, where all the work credited to Photographic Advertising Limited rather than to individual photographers.
In 1936, Arthur Brackman founded Freelance Photographers Guild – FPG so that talented amateur photographers in America could distribute their work to magazines and advertisers. Photographers could join this network for a small fee, in return FPG acted as their agent. Arthur Brackman gathered a diverse collection and marketed his photographers to his clients. (Krayna, 1996)
Improving Distribution Methods: First Published Catalogs
In 1938, the Frederic Lewis Agency in Manhattan became one of the first businesses to publish catalogs of its holdings. Catalogs were a convenient way for prospective clients to browse through their available work. (Krayna, 1996). Print technology enabled a new form of presentation and ultimately increased sales and profits. More importantly, the privilege of being able to purchase and participate in this evolving form of media became available to many more consumers. Also in Great Britain, Photographic Advertising Limited had a large catalog of stock photographs to present to its clients.
1950 – 1970: Unproductive Period
From 1950s to 1970s, many advertisers and editors in the United States and in Europe preferred stock photos over assignment photography because they were saving time and had minimal risk in terms of production. Moreover, stock photography was relatively cost-effective when compared with the assignment work. However, as Bruhn (2003), Frosh (2003) and Krayna (1996) note that stock images were mostly containing the outtakes of assignments, which negatively perceived as second quality production.
Although, the use of illustration became increasingly popular in advertising, the frequent usage of stock images meant low quality production. The images were considered second-rate, something to turn to out of desperation, or when a deadline left no alternative. According to Krayna (1996), from the early 1950s to the 1970s, the stock photography industry as a whole continued to downfall. The basic structure of production, storage, and distribution systems for stock photography business were developed, but it became profitable starting in the late 1970s, when the global marketing and distribution methods took shape. (Bruhn 2003)
Between 1930 and 1970, there were four different type of picture collections: News archives, Private collections, picture libraries (photo studios), and picture agencies. Picture libraries and agencies served a diverse range of businesses in the editorial, historical, scientific, journalistic, educational, and commercial sectors in the United States and in Europe. They realized the opportunity of the increase in demand for stock photography and built up stock collections. However, the stock photography business remained fragmented, partly because of existing cumbersome archiving, presentation and distribution systems.
Bruhn, M. (2003). Visualization Services: Stock Photography and the Picture Industry. Genre. 36 (3), pp 365-381.
Frosh, P. (2003). The Image Factory: Consumer Culture, Photography and The Visual Content Industry. New Technologies/New Cultures Series. London: Berg.
Krayna, P. (1996). Stock In America: The Business Of Stock Photography and How It Grew. Print -New York-. 50 (4). pp 62-67.
Wilkinson, H. (1997). ‘The New Heraldry’: Stock Photography, Visual Literacy, and Advertising In 1930s Britain. Journal of Design History. 10 (1), pp. 23-38.