Banff stock photo shows evolution of female representation

Stock photo superstar Cari Ann Siemens reflects on how an outdoor action shot became the top-selling stock photo of 2017, and what it means for the depiction of women in the media.

'I hope photos like this inspire people to get out and try cool adventures'

A woman hiking above a vibrant turquoise lake in Banff National Park is the bestselling stock photo of 2017, according to Getty Images, revealing a remarkable transformation in the media representation of women over the past decade. (Getty Images)

Cari Ann Siemens didn't have any plans to become a stock photo superstar. She just wanted the smoke to clear, so she could see the mountains she hoped to go hiking in.

Montana native Siemens and her photographer husband Jordan, who shoots for Getty Images, were in Banff a couple of years ago, to do some hiking, biking and camping, when he inadvertently shot the photo that turned his wife into the model of the most downloaded stock photo of 2017.

Cari Ann Siemens is the subject and her husband Jordan, right is the shooter in the top-selling photograph of 2017, which reflects a dramatic evolution over how women have been portrayed in media, from scantily clad to gritty. (Jordan Siemens)

"When we first rolled into Banff, we couldn't even see any of the mountains," said Siemens, on The Calgary Eyeopener.

"By the third day, we could see the mountains, so we headed up to Peyto Lake, to do a hike up along the ridge there, and that's where that image was captured."

The rise of 'gritty women imagery'

The image, of Siemens hiking along a somewhat treacherous looking trail, with gorgeous Peyto Lake and mountains serving as a backdrop, recently become the focal point of a New York Timesarticle focusing on how the most popular stock photos reflect the ways in which the culture has shifted in its depiction of women over the past decade — a shift Siemens says is a positive development.

"I feel like it has a lot more to do with where I am and what I'm doing, than about me, as a woman," she said, "so I think that's really captivating now, to women, to see people out doing cool things.

"A lot of images in advertising always seem to focus on body image," she said, "and I hope photos like this inspire people to get out and try cool adventures, rather than judge ourselves for our appearance."

Cari Ann Siemens in Banff, where another photo her husband Jordan shot has become the best selling stock photo of 2017. (Jordan Siemens)

Even though the photo's a big hit, Siemens doesn't run into it very often.

"I haven't seen it in too many places," she said. "Most of the time we find out about the photo, it's from friends who are travelling, and they see a photo in a magazine, or see something on a billboard, or through texts, where they say, we saw you guys on the back of a plane today."

The Times article contrasted the last decade of bestselling stock photos, going back to 2007, and what they discovered was that back then, the bestselling photo for all requests of 'woman' was one of a scantily clad woman wrapped in a towel.

'You can't be what you can't see'

Part of the slow evolution may be related to a unique collaboration between Getty Images and Sheryl Sandberg, the former Facebook CEO, whose non-profit partnered with Getty Images in 2014 to create the Lean In Collection, a stock photo archive of 14.000 images that enable the media — in print ads, on billboards and in blogs — to publish images that are more diverse, and more empowering.

The Lean In Collection's unofficial tag line, according to the article, is "You can't be what you can't see."

The mecca of stock photography

It's also perhaps appropriate that an Alberta stock photo would be the bestselling of 2017, as Calgary has become somewhat of a stock photo mecca over the past several decades.

That includes Getty Images, as well as the fact that two of the founders of iStock Photo attended the University of Calgary.

For Siemens, the shift in the way the media represents women is a positive development, whether its about projecting power, adventure — or all of the above.

A Banff hiker has become an accidental celebrity after appearing in one of the year's most popular stock photographs. We speak to the subject of the picture, Cari Ann Siemens, in Montana. 4:20

"I think it's both," she said.

"It's a woman getting out doing something adventurous — and I guess in that image, it appears that I'm alone. My husband is obviously with me, since he took the photo— but I think it's definitely focusing on what I'm doing rather than what I look like."

With files from The Calgary Eyeopener