The cult of image is caught somewhere between fine art and the bottom line. On one hand, the demand for images in print, broadcast and online ventures continues to increase. On the other, some cautious critics insist our culture's already overly saturated with visuals, risking apathy among viewers. In a recent ABC News report, Getty Images public relations director Laurie McEachron admitted, "Culturally, as a society, we're used to seeing more images; we want more visual impact." But in asking whether more is too much, Stephen Mayes, CEO of Photonica, a New York City-based stock photography agency, says the future of image placement does not revolve around quantity. He believes the overall quality of today's images is richer than ever before, with an increased awareness about minority representation, digital innovations and cross-over artists as catalysts of style.
In the photography industry, stock images have long been a well-tapped alternative to custom photography. In less than two decades, the industry has gone from being custom-driven to stock-managed, causing photographers to alter how they do business and inspiring agencies and publishers to approach the industry differently, as well. Now, it's estimated that nearly 80 percent of all images used in advertising comes from agencies rather than freelanced photographers. The move is presumably driven by savings and variety.
Several years ago when Mayes evaluated the industry, he noticed a laissez-fair attitude towards imagery. "People wanted the basics," he says. "But in general, over the last ten years, the viewing public has become more imaginative. They're as concerned with emotional impact as they are the message." Not only is Mayes confident that the public is becoming more receptive to metaphor within the advertising and publishing markets, but he says that the status quo for how images are purchased and used has similarly evolved. He attributes the fluidity to a cross-over of diverse market places.