Inside the image factory: Stock photography and cultural production

Paul Frosh*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


A substantial share of the photographs that are used in advertisements, product packaging, corporate marketing and website design are supplied by the stock photography business. Nevertheless, this global, billion-dollar industry, dominated by a handful of transnational corporations, remains largely invisible to consumers and has been almost totally neglected by cultural analysts. This article attempts to redress that neglect and lift the veil on a powerful force in contemporary visual culture. First it places stock photography in social and historical context, examining the consolidation of the business in its modern form in the 1970s and 1980s and setting out its core practices and discourses in the broader context of commercial culture and advertising. Next it employs the key industry terms 'success' and 'meaning' to offer an integrated analysis of stock photography both as a system of cultural production and as a mode of representation.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)625-646
Number of pages22
JournalMedia, Culture and Society
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2001


  • Advertising
  • Catalogue
  • Commercial discourse
  • Culture industry
  • Genre
  • Visual communication


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