Over at Chase Jarvis is a great exegesis of the state of the stock photography marketplace from a shooter's perspective. It's written by Chase's studio manager, Scott, who manages the post-production there.
Scott refers to the mediocrity and sameness of imagery in the stock libraries, driven by sales metrics and not by creative content. It reminds me of 1989, and suggests that we're about to see a creative upheaval not unlike what the business saw in the early nineties.
Stock in the late eighties was predictable and boring, a catch basin for assignment outtakes, with not much creative range. In 1991 a Japanese stock agency, Photonica, opened up a New York office and distributed a catalog unlike anything ever seen on this side of the Pacific. Dreamy photographs of flowers and water, pages and pages of them. In a stock catalog. Nobody could make sense of it.
At about this time was a much derided ad series, produced by Hill, Holliday Conners of Boston, introducing Infiniti cars,. They were dreamy photographs about nothing, just haystacks in fields and ripples of water. They were ads for a car that didn't show the car. Just the feelings. Nobody could figure it out. David Letterman made fun of the ads on his show. But the ads were off the charts for generating brand awareness.
This was the climate of the times when Photonica entered the scene. They became wildly successful and then became widely copied. I was one of their early American photographers, and I enjoyed quite a ride with them. I shot like I always did, and for the first time I found that there was a desire in the marketplace for how I saw. My creative work was in sync with my time.
Soon enough, editors started to manage the look and to art direct shoots. Other agencies created their own Photonica aesthetic (the agency had become an adjective), and by the turn of the century the ride was over. Getty bought the files and subsumed them into the Collective.
We seem to be on a similar track with Getty Images as the next fall guy. Scott's blog entry suggests a great hunger for a new aesthetic in tune with the times.