A Designer (Trudy) reports on 'Picture This' (an exhibition)

Working in a marketing agency, the amount of hours I’ve racked up seemingly trawling through online stock photo libraries is a number I don't even want to admit to. An often incredibly mundane task, that no one volunteers for, and “just looking for a couple of stock photos for a client” is never an efficient job. You're usually faced with volumes of unusable, staged images, that are never quite what you're looking for.

Not long ago I got to work on some branding work for a client who worked in a specific mental illness research field, and had to undertake one of these stock image searches. Not surprisingly seeking images representative of mental illness proved to be a huge challenge and often had me disapprovingly shaking my head at inappropriate tags on images and at the search keywords I was having to use. And I found that regardless, there were not a huge number of images that came back that were representative of either the client's or the wider Australian audience's genuine interests and understanding of mental illness.


It’s quite refreshing, therefore, to have been able to check out the small but mighty Melbourne display of ‘Picture This’, a research project conducted by SANE Australia and Getty Images. In 2015 the project sought to survey more than 5,000 Aussies to get an understanding of what they thought was a fair and accurate representation of mental illness. The results showed that we wanted to see ‘images of real people which convey a sense of both struggle and hope.’

Based on these responses SANE Australia and Getty developed a short list of recommendations for photographers and publishers, to guide a more accurate depiction of mental illness. Listed below, the five guidelines give realistic and appropriate best practice around the way we depict, tag and search for images - consideration that would truly help the communications industry to illustrate information better and support the right conversation going forward.

Recommendation 1: Human experience

Emphasise the human experience of mental illness rather than featuring abstract depictions.

Recommendation 2: Hidden adversity

Provide images depicting people from diverse backgrounds doing 'everyday' things while also illustrating a hidden experience of adversity.

Recommendation 3: Diversity of experience

Use a diverse range of images that represent isolation or pain. For example, images such as people in the dark holding their heads in their hands or standing alone in a crowded place. 

 Recommendation 4: Search words

Tag images with diagnostic terms (such as 'postnatal depression', 'bipolar') or emotions (such as 'sadness' and 'loneliness') to make them easier to locate via online searches.

Recommendation 5: Non-violent

Do not tag or associate image depicting violence (blood, knives etc) with mental illness.

To check out the recommendations via the Picture This exhibition, head to The Atrium, Federation Square Melbourne - showing up until Friday 18 March.

 Alternatively head to SANE Australia for all the project details.

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