Getty Images

Building the World’s Visual Language: The Increasing Global Importance of Image Banks in Corporate Media

The article discusses how images of image banks such as Getty Images are somewhat symbolic and represent intangible concepts instead of being descriptive and informative.

The article first gives a brief history of the image industry and image banks. Then it discusses the characteristics of Getty images starting with the generic image. Getty images are supposed to be “general rather than specific”. Images are decontextualized by having blurred or plain backgrounds. If the background is clear, then it is usually a generic setting, like a window with diffused light for example. Images may also contain certain generic attributes or props, such as a phone or computer or construction hat. These props are just visual indicators that refer to the general concept or title of the image. Models in these images usually don’t have striking or memorable faces, but rather generic yet presentable faces. These models are intended as common generic people and not individual models. Timelessness is another characteristic of Getty images. Backgrounds are out of focus and colors are flattened out so that images turn from “witnesses” or “records” to “symbolic representations”. Another characteristic of these images is modality, or the lack of excess denotations.

The article then discusses meaning potentials of Getty images. The images don’t have just one specific intended meaning, but can rather have many meanings depending on the text or captions that the users use to anchor these images. Geographic locations and settings are under-represented, and many places are not represented at all. The reason for that is that all the images are generic, and search results for different geographic areas would result in the same generic images that would apply there.

There are around 81 conceptual search terms in Getty Images, the two main ones being mental states and themes expressing basic values related to people, places, and activities. Examples of themes include strength, concentration, happiness, freedom…

In conclusion, since image banks are a global source of images, the world’s visual language is becoming more “homogenized” and “generic”, and the role of the image is becoming more of a symbolic representation rather than a descriptive photo.

Getty Images official site:

About author View all posts Author website

Reviews Universe