Wow, Just Wow—the Staggering Awkwardness of Stock Videos

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Stock photography paradoxically embodies cookie-cutter sameness and jaw-dropping weirdness, yet it still can't hold a candle to stock video. Behold, a new single-serving Tumblr dedicated to curating ridiculous stock videos, like "Dazed guy, isolated on a white background," by gravicam:

Given that the awkward stock photos Tumblr has been posting gems for quite some time, it's surprising that it took so long for a video version to emerge. Shutterstock doesn't exactly make it easy to find and share these mesmerizing visual treats. Working with the video curating platform VHX, the creators of awkwardstockvideo.tumblr.com, Casey Pugh and K. K. Apple, serve up a playlist to baffle and delight you. Their poker-faced captions for the videos add yet another dimension of awkwardness: "DAZED GUY IS SO DAZED." Or, below, "SERIOUS PEOPLE IN A SERIOUS BUSINESS," for this clip by wavebreakmedia ltd

In "The Tao of Shutter Stock: What Makes a Stock Photo a Stock Photo?" Megan Garber valiantly tackles the essential question here, which is not Why are these things so awkward? but Why do people keep making these awkward things? These images and videos self-replicate in patterns, trapped in a sort of uncanny valley between the aspirational (effortless multiculturalism!) and the actual (underpaid aspiring actors pretending to talk about spreadsheets!). Garber puts it better

But there's also the cultural sensibility of the stock photo: the cycle -- virtuous or vicious -- that occurs when people start thinking of "stock" as its own aesthetic category. Life as told through the stock image is beautified and sanitized and occasionally dominated by camisole-clad ladies holding things. It is posed; it is weird; it is fraught. But it is also unapologetic, because it knows that it has its own particular style -- one that, meme-like, is incredibly easy to replicate. Dress up your cat, point, click, edit, upload, and wait for the Internet to reward you for your efforts. As Shutterstocker Emily Goodwin tells me, it's not necessarily the traditionally "pretty" stuff that sells well on the site. No, it's the utilitarian content -- the images that capture the banalities and absurdities of every day life -- that prove popular. Stock begets stock ...

The truly awkward thing is that someone, somewhere, keeps licensing these stock images because they are useful. Someone's fantasy of the ideal office looks like the one above. "Businesswoman and businessman working on rocks by the sea," by motionPL, helps illustrate someone's point about ... something. 

Stock video as a kind of found art isn't a new concept. A couple years back, Ratatat's music video for "Drugs" experimented with the look of stock video. The director, Carl Burgess, described how the stock database Getty Images inspired the project in an interview with the Creators Project:

I had the idea to make a video from stock footage long before Evan [bass player and producer] got in touch about making a video for Ratatat. Getty Images is something I've worked with in the past, and I knew it had legs to become something more. In a similar way to the way Pictures From The Daily Mail came about, I'd been scouring Getty for a long time -- saving up a library of these clips. I was captivated by how surreal they were, the long stares into the camera, the fake smiles and the bad acting. I'd think "Who the hell buys these clips"? A good example of this is the woman at the end of the Ratatat video who's stroking the dog, that one is so weird! I'd love to know what purpose they had in mind for that one.


For more videos like "Beautiful smiling brunette woman giving a thumbs up gesture of approval, success or agreement," by stryjek, see http://awkwardstockvideo.tumblr.com/. 

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Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg is the executive producer for video at The AtlanticMore

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg joined The Atlantic in 2011 to launch its video channel and, in 2013, create its in-house video production department. She leads the development and production of original documentaries, interviews, and other video content for The Atlantic. Previously, she worked as a producer at Al Gore’s Current TV and as a content strategist and documentary producer in San Francisco. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University.
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