The history of nonbinary gender is as long as the history of humanity itself and although the term is comparatively recent, its adoption into everyday vocabulary illustrates that society at large, and brands, are at last becoming more inclusive. Accordingly, businesses are in need of images that show all genders and the diversity of the whole human community. Stock photo companies such as Adobe Stock, Getty Images and Shutterstock, are beginning to showcase non binary models and there are a few specialized platforms for gender inclusive commercial images.
There is no doubt that the words and images that we are exposed to, are important in shaping opinions, perhaps even more now in the age of information technology and the visually saturated environment of social media. The power of images used in commercial photography can and does shape public opinion and photographers have a key role, and therefore also a responsibility, in creating images that enhance the representation of people that are minoritized.
The findings of the 2020 study from GLAAD and Procter and Gamble, LGBTQ Inclusion in Advertising and Media, conducted among a national sample of U.S. adults, reveal that cis gender people who had been exposed to LGBTQ+ people in media, were more likely to accept LGBTQ+ people and be supportive of their issues.
“The findings of this study send a strong message to brands and media outlets that including LGBTQ people in ads, films, and TV is good for business and good for the world,” said GLAAD President & CEO Sarah Kate Ellis. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, when media consumption is up and when media outlets serve as lifelines for LGBTQ people in isolation, companies should recognize that now is the right time to grow the quality and quantity of LGBTQ people in advertising. Significant work still needs to be done given the history of bias in LGBTQ representation, but leaders like P&G are raising the bar and bringing other powerful brands to the table.”
The bottom line of any business is to sell products and increase sales, so photographers have a unique opportunity here to provide gender inclusive images. There is a void in commercial photography, just waiting to be filled with images that are diverse and truly representative of all consumers. However, if you are not from the LGBTQ community yourself, the responsibility of providing respectful and accurate images of trans and non-binary people probably seems like a minefield of political correctness, just waiting to explode in your face.
In an interview with the New York Times, Claudia Marks, senior art director at Getty Images said, “To portray transgender people in a fully realized way, it’s important for more transgender people to be both behind and in front of the camera lens. Marketers and journalists should look beyond simple, literal depictions and consider casting, storytelling, composition, styling and mood".
We soon learn that the most important part of a successful photo shoot happens before you even pick up a camera. Preparation is key and there are many educational resources available for photographers, journalists, and creatives, beginning with GLAAD’s Resources for Media Professionals, which includes: transgender terminology style guide, including terms to avoid, and guidelines for proper name and pronoun usage; in-depth tips on creating fair, accurate, and inclusive stories about transgender people, and much more.
Stereotyped images, such as rainbow flags and Pride parades, are often used as a lazy short cut in the representation of non binary communities, and they represent the majority of LBGTQ labelled images in stock photography. Photographers can actively work against these clichés by simply highlighting the everyday life of their models and by keeping it real. If you are cis gender, prepare your shoot by connecting with the local LGBTQ community to search for models and invite them to actively participate in the storytelling of the shoot and to let you know when your directions are not appropriate. As a visual narrator it is vital to avoid, as far as possible, projecting your own culture on to your models.
Standard LGBTQ+ content predominately shows white, male models in their twenties and thirties. Also, LGBTQ+ people, instead of being shown in everyday life, are often defined by their (perceived) sexuality. Plan to photograph middle aged and older individuals and couples, families and teenagers in their everyday lives; while shopping, travelling, making important choices, such as buying a house or car, commuting to work, working, outside activities, hobbies, social gatherings.
Keywording on stock photography sites will help customers find your work and it is imperative to avoid misgendering your models. Remember to clarify the appropriate pronoun and terms for your model and the model release, as vocabulary might vary from person to person. The GLAAD site media resources includes a transgender terminology style guide, including terms to avoid, and guidelines for proper name and pronoun usage.
If you are a lifestyle or portrait photographer you no doubt have a good rapport with people, so creating diverse, authentic images that cover the whole spectrum of gender in daily life, one human to another, is a sector of commercial photography with great potential, both for photographers and models. With careful and respectful preparation that minefield of political correctness may become a vibrant field of flowers, just waiting to bloom.