Equality in photo databases

Equality in photo databases

So this happened:

I was searching the word responsible in the photo database of unsplash.com to find a picture that would fit my latest blog post. I love that site! As you might have noticed almost all pictures on this blog originate from unsplash.com. They are a huge part of making this blog look nice and I’m very grateful to all the photographers who so generously offer their pictures for free.

Check out the other suggested keywords the algorithm of unsplash.com shows when searching for the word responsible:

This is what I’m curious about: how does the algorithm behind this work? Is it the photographers themselves who tag their pictures or is there a team at unsplash.com who takes care of this? Of course what I wonder is this: why are pictures of only men suggested by the algorithm for this particular keyword, leaving out women?

I recently hired a professional photographer to take some pictures of me for use in Poolside, my newly started company. We had a meeting before the photoshoot and he asked me in what way I’d like to be portrayed. So I told him some keywords I associate with myself such as: grounded, honest, powerful, compassionate and intuitive.

In case you are wondering: yes, it’s still a thing to say or write this about myself. Lennart (the voice of my mind) is, as always, ready to pound on me hard with the who do you think you are-thing. It’s getting quite old but unfortunately it still exists inside me.
But back to what I was writing about:
A couple of days later the photographer told me he’d searched different professional photo databases in order to find pictures of women portrayed in this way. You know what he noticed? That the majority of pictures to be found of people with keywords such as for example powerful were men. I find this both interesting and disturbing at the same time.

I have written about feminism before so I don’t want to repeat myself. I’m also not a woman who is fan of standing on any barricade. It’s just not my thing. I guess this blog is my barricade and already that is quite a big step for me. So I hereby just want to highlight equality in photo databases and express my feelings about it. I also wonder: what do we communicate to our children when algorithms seem to work like this? I have two teenagers and this can worry me sometimes. So I’d really like to understand how this works.

I want to mention that unsplash.com does suggest both woman and female when searching for the keyword powerful. However my point of the photographer’s discovery still remains: something seems not right in the world of photo databases. Or are women simply not photographed as often as men with the intention of creating a picture that communicates strength and power?

I googled some words and this is what I found:

Responsible man: 605.000.000 results
Responsible woman: 355.000.000 results
Powerful man: 685.000.000 results
Powerful woman: 620.000.000 results
Strong man: 1.800.000.000 results
Strong woman: 994.000.000 results

I feel these numbers speak for themselves….

As a picture for this particular blog post I have chosen to share one of myself. It is taken by the photographer I mentioned above. I am proud of this picture because I feel it captures me in my essence. And if it would somehow ever pop up in any database I sure hope it will be tagged appropriately.

It’d be cool if the people at unsplash.com would comment and explain their algorithm so I understand how it works in the world of photo databases. I’ll try to get their attention to my question, let’s see if it manages to penetrate through the social media noise!

Photo: Bengt Säll – greystudio.se

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