Every year Getty Images releases their forecast for visual trends in the coming year as chosen by "visual anthropologists" who have analyzed vast quantities of data. This forecast not only predicts trends that will influence every facet of the creative industry, but the forecast itself has immeasurable impact on design, advertising, and myriad other formats of visual media. On behalf of Fstoppers, I spoke with Pam Grossman, Director of Visual Trends at Getty Images about trends and the coming year.
So firstly, what are the trend predictions for 2017?
Technology is always in the frame (pun intended) in one way or another, but recently there has been a rise in virtual reality with the release of Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and a plethora of other brands following suit. In fact, in the last 12 months Getty Reports that the search query "Virtual Reality" has risen by 321%. Similarly, a spike in searches for 360 degree photos suggest the beginning of a boom in this area for 2017.
As Claudia Marks put it, "Colour is no longer just one component of an image; it's become the star." In an era where social media is paramount to damn near everything, an image being eye-catching is of great value. There are few aspects of a photograph with more instant impact than bold, vibrant colours and in the last 12 months there has been a 52% increase in searched for "colour" and a 10% increase in searches for "saturation." For those of you interested, the top five most searched colours in order are green, red, blue, brown and yellow.
It appears #nofilter has permeated the upper echelons of photography. The theme prediction "unfiltered" is focused on a shift toward the less air-brushed and more photojournalistic approach to photography. This ties in nicely with "gritty women" and I think they share similar foundations. Getty describes the trend as "...the antithesis of glossy aspirational advertising. It's direct, honest, and rooted in reality." These motifs have a strong bond with the notion of story telling but the cited search terms are intriguing to say the least: the term "disruptive" has shot up by 298% in 12 months and "Gen Z" has risen by 176%. Gen Z for the people less educated on the subject than me (I just Googled it 30 seconds before writing this) is the generation after Millennials. Yes, that generation has a name and you're now very old indeed. How all of these terms and themes tie in together under the umbrella of "unfiltered" eludes me a little, but there's certainly something there.
Of all the predicted trends, this is the one which resonated with me the most and after talking to Pam Grossman and reading her essay which accompanies the trend forecast, I believe it's one of interest to her too. The "definition" (for want of a better word) of genders in recent years has become spectacularly more complicated; from the empowerment of women, to the more extreme demand of gender neutral labels like "they" when discussing a person in a magazine interview. Pam notes that "as the debates around gender politics intensify, we are seeing the emergence of a new type of woman who is ready to reframe the battleground." It's a fantastically interesting trend and I fully expected a wealth of evidence for the increase in its relevance and was not disappointed. In the last 12 months the search term "women + hero" has risen by 105%, "woman + grit" by 90% and "heroine" by 80%. I talked to Pam about this in more depth and I will return to it later in this article.
The sheer volume of information on the internet is incomprehensible; one moment you're reading about the occupation of the Rhineland and three clicks later you're watching an androgynous person eat ice cream off the top of their head with a spoon. What's more shocking still is that only one-third of the world's population has access to the internet. If Mark Zuckerberg's Internet.org initiative which is striving to provide internet access to that other two-thirds is successful, this sense of a "global neighbourhood" is only going to strengthen. Getty report that searches for "community" and "globalisation" have spiked by 62% and 61% respectively in the last 12 months.
If I'm honest, when I first read the name of this trend I couldn't help but shake the feeling that it sounded more like the title of a hipster's spoken-work poem. However, as Getty unpack this term, it is clear it's a fitting part to a larger picture. "New Naivety" encompasses a desire for the authentic and a move away from the disingenuous and overly polished. Body-shamers have now been counter-shamed, "geeks" are eclipsing the extroverted rich of past generations and previously undocumented lives are now laid bare for the world to see. The search terms that support this trend are "authenticity" with a 104% rise and "real life" with a 99% rise, all in the last 12 months. It was only when I looked at these predictions in totality that I realised there is a trend within trends.
What has resonated with me the most about these trends is that there is a sense in which they all tie together somehow. That running through each of these umbrella terms is a thread that binds them. I can't say for sure what this thread is called, but it appears to lie in a yearning for genuineness. I don't think it would be too much of a stretch to say that this shift is represented in the election of Donald Trump (bear with me). Whether you like or hate the man, what he represents (even if disingenuously; that's a debate for a different website) is a change from the norm; from disinformation and secrecy. People appear to want straight-shooters and are trying to distance themselves from a widespread fakeness or hypernormalisation. This line of enquiry prompted my first question to Pam, in that I wondered how much political culture affects image trends and vice versa.
Very much. Political culture informs how people are feeling about their day-to-day lives and their place in the world, and also has a direct effect on brands. We’re seeing this more than ever after the election. Ad agencies and media brands like McCann, WWP, and ABC are now thinking about how to better research and understand the whole population, and better reflect the working class. At the same time, we’re also seeing a huge surge towards inclusivity and a doubling down on feminist ideals. We’re having businesses say we need to connect with Middle America, while at the same time, having brands say we need more visual representation of Muslim Americans, for example. On the whole, we are much more mindful about where they’re spending their money, how products are made and how businesses are run. And with consumers being more socially and politically minded nowadays, they tend to want to support businesses that support and reflect their values.
This again refers back to a sense that the people want genuineness and cold-hard reality as opposed to a filtered and carefully presented alternative. Every trend appears to point towards society as a whole coming together and exposing the fake and highlighting the real, even if it's more unpleasant. This "thread" cannot have materialised out of thin air and so I asked Pam if trends grow and change through multiple years. That is, are there identifiable lines of evolutions between each year's predictions and the predictions of the year(s) that preceded it?
Yes definitely. Individual trends identify the concepts that shape how we view the world, but collectively these trends tell the overarching story of visual culture - and this story is definitely evolutionary. These trends don’t always have a clean beginning or end point, and often last longer than just a year. At Getty Images we forecast the trends that will be in the spotlight each year, but these often endure and influence subsequent trends for years.
A prime example is this year’s trend Gritty Woman, which celebrates women as warriors who are tough and unapologetic about their power. This is grounded in another trend that we identified in 2013 called Female Rising, which saw the rise of female empowerment in imagery. Then in 2014 we identified a trend called Genderblend which embraced the different ways women and men were identifying themselves, and explored the idea of gender as spectrum, not a binary. Both are still in the spotlight and definitely intersect. Bond these with a trend we identified in 2015 called Messthetics, which celebrates imperfection, viscera, and the mess of everyday life. Gritty Woman emerges from the confluence of these trends: she’s strong and fierce and not afraid to get her hands dirty.
It's fascinating just how revealing image trends can be with bringing to our attention the general notions of society's hive mind. Newton's third law states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. I'm quite sure Isaac wasn't thinking about global image trends and their counter-trends, but Pam does point out that while there is evolution, there is often a repelling force. For example, one of Getty's trends last year was "surreality" which flies in the face of much of this year's motif.
Getty's trend predictions for the coming year have become influential in the extreme with regards to aesthetics in all forms of visual media. This raises questions of just how much the rise of a trend and Getty's identification of it plays a part in its growth. For example, a part of the "thread" I refer to is the sense of shamelessness and particularly in the case of women. I wondered if trends that promote the empowerment of women and Getty identifying and promoting them forges a sort of symbiotic relationship where both prosper from each other. For example, by the increase in demand for images under the keyword "menstruation," more artists are actively creating content under that umbrella and further raising awareness. Likewise, the more content on "menstruation" allows for more diverse articles and adverts (etc.) on the topic. Pam pointed out that with a global network of in excess of a quarter of a million contributors and many more than that in the form of clients, Getty is leading the visual conversation, not following it.
Our role at Getty Images is two-pronged. Certainly it is to meet current imagery demands and keep tabs on what customers are searching for and buying. But it’s also about informing our photographers and customers about what’s to come and encouraging them to be more forward thinking. Trends emerge regardless, but being able to identify which ones are coming down the pipeline that are going to have the most resonance and ultimately the biggest impact requires deep digging on both qualitative and quantitative research. We can’t just rely on search data or sales to signify changes, but need to know how to prioritize these indicators and then examine them through a cultural lens.
At times, being a photographer can feel like an unimportant role, but the exploration of trends and their impact is -- for me at least -- invigorating. It shows that the visual arts play a fantastically important role in the emergence, cultivation, and evolution of global trends and can play a vital role in change for the better. But, if nothing else, this list of trends provides some shooting theme inspiration with every trend able to be easily imagined as a monthly photography competition title. Now, if I can just get NASA to let me borrow Mars Rover I'll get started with "Virtuality" and 360 degree photos.
A big thank you to Jenna Markovich (Communications Specialist) and Pam Grossman (Director of Visual Trends) of Getty Images for working with me and Fstoppers on this piece.