Diversified gallery photography.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
According to my next guest, our photo has an image problem. You know, stock photography – the generic images you see in print ads or online. Stock photo people tend to have some common elements – big, fake smile, unnatural posture. Here are some of the other problems they often encounter: lack of diversity in the real world. So the next two guests are trying to bring some new life and color to the industry. Karen Okonkwo and Joshua Kissi have started TONL. They call it a diversified stock photography business. Welcome both of you.
KAREN OKONKWO: thank you.
JOSHUA KISSI: hi. How’s it going?
Block: that’s great. And, Karen, why don’t you start telling us how this idea came about?
OKONKWO: yes. So, you know, a few years ago, my sister and I started a blog. In the process, we create a lot of content for what we write. And I’ve found that when we’re looking for imagery, or even creating ourselves, they’re biased towards a particular race. This is the white race you know. So it really bothers me, even if I try to find different images, I can’t find it.
BLOCK: if you’re looking for someone’s photo, riding a bike or shopping, or meeting their insurance agent, is it really hard to find a variety of stock images? Is it really hard?
OKONKWO: in a sense, it doesn’t exist. Or it is not depicted in a modern, reliable way.
BLOCK: what do you think modern, reliable means?
OKONKWO: so, basically, you see it – I don’t want to use tacky or weird words. It’s just a very old image – usually what I find, if I find something.
Block: Joshua, as a photographer, you didn’t see the image you wanted – would you want to shoot?
KISSI: no, no (laughter) as a photographer, when I think of stock images, I think of bad images, honest — like bad lighting, bad models, bad posture. This does not seem attractive to people who actually believe in images. The way social media has changed the world and the way we look at images – stock photography has not evolved completely.
BLOCK: when you’re taking photos of your photos, Joshua, what motivates you? What are you looking for?
KISSI: I think I’m just looking for different types of people, people I’ve never seen in the media or visual media. I’m just looking for someone’s story. And when I on a train in New York City, I see – for example – even on my F train from queens to Manhattan, this diversity and beautiful people from eastern Europe southeast Asia to the African americans to the African Hispanic americans. I just saw everyone’s story survive on this train. I thought, hey, TONL should look and feel like this.
Block: does your image contain white or all…
Block:… People of color?
KISSI: no. That’s one thing we don’t want people to take away – just like it’s a black and white problem. In our imagination, there will be people of white – European descent. But this will be the main show of color – how the world actually looks. So…
OKONKWO: yes, no. It’s just going back to us to make sure it’s not an independent business, because it’s not. This is about unity. So you’ll see on the website how we can show colors in a very uniform way – but definitely not separate.
KISSI: that’s true.
Block: Joshua Kissi and Karen Okonkwo are the founders of TONL, a stock photography business launched later this summer. Karen and josh, thank you very much.
OKONKWO: thank you.
KISSI: thank you very much.