Offensive Stock Photography

Cardinal_2I just spent the last few hours researching images for my next book cover. It’s a contemporary romance with gay male protagonists, a sequel to a novella I published a few months ago. For that cover, I went with an image of midtown Manhattan because it captured what I wanted.

For this one, call me crazy, but instead of a pure scenic, I’d hoped to find a picture of an actual human with a strong resemblance to one of my guys. (No, it’s not my feathered friend over here, but he’s pretty angry, too.)

When I went hunting, I popped in search terms that I thought would bring up images of two men, or even one man, and a hint that there were some deep emotions going on. An eye lock, holding hands, huddled underneath an umbrella, having coffee, brooding while watching the rain… You know, the sorts of things most couples in romance-novel conflict do that you could put on a book cover that doesn’t imply you’re getting the racier variety of gay contemporary novel. I have no problem with M/M style stories; it’s just not what I’m doing for this one.

What I found made me angry. Stereotypes abounded. There were guys in drag or putting on makeup, half-naked men wrapped in rainbow flags, and nearly every couple had their shirts off, were striking some sort of comical pose, looked like the “Men on Film” guys Damon Wayans and David Grier portrayed on In Living Color, or were touching their toes in their underwear. I appreciate the aesthetic of a half-naked man—hey, I’m female and still have a pulse, but what bothered me was the presumption that to your average stock-photo hunter, this is what “homosexual couple” represents. That it’s all about the sexuality. When I put in “heterosexual couple,” I get happy, smiling men and women out on dates, snapping selfies, bringing flowers, and for the most part, fully clothed and not twisted into pretzels. Why the difference?

Can we talk about this? Because I’m at a loss. And kind of pissed off about it, to tell you the truth.

8 thoughts on “Offensive Stock Photography

  1. Nickie Storey-Bailey says:

    It’s most likely because that is what ignorant people think of when they hear the words, “gay men.” They don’t know that gay men are men who are a couple, just like ANY couple. They work, they raise kids, they worry over bills, they laugh, cry…they are HUMAN.
    Yes, it makes me sick, too.
    Also, though, it is what many AUTHORS portray when they write LGBT books, too. Not you, of course, and not any authors I personally know, but a lot of them do.

  2. Lynne Cantwell says:

    You found shots of hetero couples just smiling and holding hands? Fully clothed? That’s amazing — when I see covers of romance novels, all I see are naked torsos. And/or a man and woman pawing one another.

    Interestingly, I’ve seen a Marriott ad on the Metro that featured two guys embracing and looking into each other’s eyes. It was a biracial couple, even. I had to look twice to figure out what was going on in the picture. Clearly, it’s not something our culture is accustomed to seeing.

    You may be forging yourself a new genre, Laurie.

  3. davedauthor says:

    Without knowing the exact search terms you put in, it’s a little difficult to determine the problem here. Stock photo companies aren’t in the business of providing subtlety: the intent is to sell images that get a particular idea across; often, the best way to do that is through stereotype.

    American culture is becoming very accustomed to seeing gay couples portrayed naturally in every form of media currently extant. From Food Network to HGTV to Law & Order to contemporary cinema, gay couples are shown to be exactly the same as heterosexual couples.

    Check out this Onion article from 2001:,351/

    Yes, it’s a joke. But the culture has changed. Even since 2001.

  4. dvberkom says:

    I totally get this, Laurie. Stereotypes abound. When I was doing a trailer for one of my books, finding a decent photo of a woman with a gun turned out to be surprisingly difficult. Waaaaaay too many scantily clad women with AK-47s or AR-15s (many of them were plastic guns). Ugh. Somebody’s wet dream, for sure. Then, if the weapon was right, the woman was all tarted up and looked like she should have been dancing at a divey bar somewhere in Kosovo. Seems things haven’t changed as much as we’d like.

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