A diverse photo of a woman

Choosing diverse images for your classroom: Challenges & Solutions in Stock Photography

As an educator I am always thrilled to have both the opportunity to appreciate diversity on a daily basis and also the ability to show it. But it is important to be sensitive and consider the context in which you depict diversity– we’ve all seen those atrociously “diverse” stock photos from the 2000s. Here are a few things to consider to help you curate the most appropriate photos for your teaching materials.

  • Are you (co-)responsible for communicating your school’s diversity efforts? Then it makes sense that you first work on your own diversity competence and practise critically questioning your own perspective and discovering implicit assumptions about other people early on and consciously dealing with them. Sounds obvious, but sometimes gets lost in the stressful daily grind.
  • It’s not only who you portray, but also how. Image composition and conception play a big role, especially in group pictures: What are the proportions? Who is at the edge of the picture and who is more in the centre? How are the people positioned in relation to each other? What part of the image message do the individual persons carry and what characteristics are attributed to them as a result? If you commission someone to create visual content, you can sensitise them to such considerations in the assignment. If you use stock material: Simply subject the images you want to use to a short statement check. On the one hand, stock images have to be usable in different contexts, on the other hand, the viewer should intuitively understand what is shown. This can invite you to show “prototypical” situations that are quickly recognised – which is why stock photos have a reputation for serving clichés and stereotypes. Stock professionals have recognised the problem and are taking new approaches: last year, for example, Adobe identified The Fluid Self as a visual trend and focused on the diversity of identities and appearances with its own theme gallery.
  • Not all diversity characteristics are visible – social background or sexual orientation, for example. Don’t frantically try to depict as many diversity characteristics as possible. If you do, the people depicted will quickly become quota markers and appear caricatured – and you will achieve the opposite of what you actually wanted.
  • Not everything has to stay the way it was, and you don’t always have to depict reality in a documentary way: Sometimes it makes more sense to show a vision or make a statement with the visual content than to depict the current state. Especially if you want to break down existing structures and clichés, you have little choice. Just consider in advance whether the viewer is aware that you are making a statement and not showing reality – otherwise you will make yourself untrustworthy.
  • Stay relaxed! Diversity is an important and sensitive topic. And even if you put a lot of time and effort into the selection of images and thoughtful wording, you will probably not always satisfy all addressees 100 per cent. Accept constructive criticism and see it as an important part of a learning and transformation process. If you want to move forward, don’t be afraid to stumble.

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