Michael Johnson of Johnson Banks rarely used photo libraries, until recently when he needed to find 160 images for a project. “It was so frustrating,” he says. He describes both the brochures and imagery as “gruesome”, “disgusting”, and “tragic”. However, he does admit that the larger agencies are slowly getting better. “The best people in town are Photonica,” he says. “It was a real pleasure looking at their brochure. It’s not like looking at stock library images. Perhaps it’s because the company is Japanese-based and the Japanese have a great photography tradition.” Johnson is also fed up with having 47 million brochures sent to the office, where one would do.
Kate Emamooden, senior designer on David Stuart’s team at The Partners, “cannot be bothered” to look at photo library material when it arrives at the office. It’s only while looking for stock images that she pays any attention to them. Emamooden tends to look towards the newer libraries like Photonica, instead of using the larger libraries which she feels stock very similar imagery. She finds that, when looking for images, the brochure is the best, particularly specific brochures like the Tony Stone’s Interpretations catalogues. Websites take too long and CD-ROMs are frustrating as only one image at a time can be logged on-screen and then the image tends to be small. “With a brochure you can quickly flick backwards and forwards,” she says. She is not impressed by marketing gimmicks. But she finds incentives like free searches very useful. “If a library offers free searches, I would use them to see what they come up with, even if I don’t ultimately use any of the images.”
Nick Austin, design director at Stocks Austin Sice, feels that competition between photo libraries has positive outcomes for users. “Photo libraries are trying very hard to compete for your attention. The images have changed, they are much more sophisticated, stylised and designer-friendly than they used to be,” he says. But he hates receiving excessive numbers of brochures. Austin feels that technology is the way forward for photo libraries and he uses all media available to him. But the old fashioned personal approach still wins hands down. “It’s good when libraries talk to us to find out what we want and reps visit us,” he adds.
Jonathan Barnbrook, typographic and graphic designer, has no qualms about using stock images. “Normally, I use photo library shots in ironic ways. They can show what people aspire to and show consumerism. It’s a great way of revealing society,” he says. “For the Damien Hirst book, I Want To Spend The Rest Of My Life Everywhere, With Everyone, One To One, Always, Forever, Now, we used photo library material to give a disconnected view.”
Barnbrook doesn’t use stock images that much because they are quite expensive, though prices have gone down since the introduction of the CD-ROM. He prefers using the CD-ROM because it takes a long time to browse on the Internet. He stays loyal to photo libraries that are “positive and open”, like PhotoDisc, which market themselves at designers who don’t use stock images in the traditional way.