Early last month, an e-mail about a new Chicago-based company called Bouquet Stock Photography landed in my inbox and I was immediately intrigued, as while stock photography sites have long existed, this one places a particular emphasis on diversity and representation. A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to be able to speak with the two co-founders of the company, Dana Kaye and Felton Kizer, both of whom also have experience running other companies of their own. Read on to see what they had to say about how and why Bouquet Stock Photography came about, the challenges posed by launching a new business during the COVID-19 pandemic, two solo founders navigating co-ownership of a company, and much more.
Andrew DeCanniere: To begin at the beginning, how did Bouquet Stock Photography come to be and, for that matter, what is it that you do?
Dana Kaye: From my end of things, I had been hearing from clients and peers — from lots of different people — about this problem with stock photography, and how a lot of bloggers, content creators and small business owners use stock photography, but it is really difficult to find diversity. It’s all very homogenous. I’ve been hearing these problems for a while. It must’ve been about a year, but I’m not a photographer. The more people kept talking to me and telling me that this is a problem — and it was a problem for me, too. For instance, if we were working on someone’s newsletter or building out their social media content, and we needed stock photos, it was hard to find diverse couples or, for that matter, black or brown people at work. I was like ‘This is a recurring problem that no one seems to be fixing. Who could I partner with who could potentially help me fix this? I had known Felton for about a year or two, and I reached out to him. This was around March — at the beginning of quarantine. I said ‘This is kind of crazy, but I had this idea,’ and he said ‘You know, I’ve also been thinking about this for some time.’ So, he was the missing piece.
DeCanniere: It’s funny you should mention that, because just last month I interviewed a couple of people who were students at DePaul University, and they went on to establish a feminist literary magazine, and we were talking about how there isn’t a lot of representation for various groups in terms of the imagery — the advertising — that you find. Historically, it really hasn’t been all that diverse. When you think about it, I guess a lot of that comes from the entertainment or advertising industries not being too diverse. Historically, these places have been dominated by white men. I think that has a lot to do with it, too.
Kaye: Or white women of a certain size.
DeCanniere: True. But even that is a much more recent development. I mean, look at a series like Mad Men. I know it isn’t a documentary, but I do think it offers viewers a look at how things were in advertising at that time. And, truthfully, I feel like it didn’t change very much in the years since. It has changed more substantially in recent years but, in the grand scheme of things, those changes — that increased diversity — basically happened yesterday. For many years, if women were involved they were, as depicted in the series, off in the background — they were marginalized. It’s bizarre to me that it’s 2020 and it seems like it’s only now that more is being done about it to ensure that advertisements and the like represent the world in which we live.
Kaye: I feel like Felton can also speak to the photography side of it.
Felton Kizer: Yeah. So, when Dana got in touch at the beginning of the lockdown, and I was going through a spiral at that point as a photographer, because it felt really heavy — like my entire existence was gone. I literally photograph people for a living. I interact with people for my work, and so not being able to do that, I was distraught. When Dana called me with this idea, it was something I’ve always wanted to do, because I always felt like stock websites were really stale and boring. They don’t reflect the world we actually live in. I always wanted to do it, and so when she called me I was like ‘Well, if I can do the photo part of it, and you could handle the outreach and organizing portion of it, then let’s do it.’
Even looking through a lot of my work, I was like ‘These are not typical stock photos, but I think we need to provide those options.’ You know, we need to give those lovely everyday moments non-staleness. I do feel like what we’re doing right now is we are trying to have a lovely curation of people engaging in different activities, but we are also seeing what has already been done and we’re figuring out how we can update that.
DeCanniere: Right. Sort of putting a new twist on it.
Kizer: One-hundred percent. It’s not as though we’re trying to reinvent stock photography. We see what has been done for all these years. Now we’re trying to update it in order to accurately reflect the world.
DeCanniere: Which I think is so important. There really are so many people underrepresented.
Kaye: Absolutely. What a lot of business owners have had to do thus far is to hire people like Felton to do custom shoots for them. For instance, if I were a black woman who owns a yoga studio, and I want to share diverse people and body types in my marketing, I would have to have a photographer come and shoot me and my clientele in the studio. That’s thousands of dollars. I also think that leveling the playing field a bit for other types of business owners who can now have quality stock photos that represent themselves as well as their clients and customers is really where my heart is. Just because you’re not a cis white man or a cis white woman, you shouldn’t have to hire a photographer to do a custom photo shoot if that’s not what you can afford or what you want. You shouldn’t have to settle for these stale photos. I think that what Felton said is that you have photos that are universal that could be used by many people in many ways but, at the same time, he’s a beautiful photographer. These are beautiful photos. There’s an elevated quality, and they are also a bit more unique. I think that we all know that when we look through those free stock photos, we see a lot of the similar ones over and over again. You can see that while we may have our hand holding coffee moment, or our fingers on laptop moment, the photos are a bit different and elevated. That’s the way in which we hope to separate ourselves from the rest.
DeCanniere: In your e-mail, you also referenced the situation in which we all find ourselves these days — namely the pandemic with which we all must contend — and it seems that forces a new level of creativity as well.
Kaye: In some ways, yes. It’s so weird that Felton and I haven’t seen one another since we became business partners. Other than today, anyway. We’re actually going to see each other for the first time this afternoon. I think that, in some ways, it was perfect timing because, as you said, media companies are using more stock photos because they weren’t able to do photoshoots. In some ways, it was good timing. In other ways, it’s also complicated, because Felton needs to shoot in order to fill out our library. Luckily, Felton has gotten really creative in getting these photoshoots down. It’s weird that we don’t have that collaboration. We couldn’t have a cocktail to celebrate the launch together. That said, there are photographers like him who are just sitting on files, and we could potentially partner with them and help them earn some monthly revenue during this crazy time. So, there are some pros and cons.
DeCanniere: Yeah. I could imagine. I’ve been at home this whole time. For one thing, I don’t want to pass it along to any family members who would be at increased risk for developing complications if they were to contract the virus. So, from my perspective, there really wasn’t a choice in the matter. Plus, you also really cannot assume that you, as a younger person — I’m in my thirties — won’t be severely affected by COVID-19. Some of the people who’ve gotten the most seriously ill and who have died have been young people. So, there was certainly that concern as well. It’s not a given that you won’t get it or, just because you’re not in your sixties or seventies or something, that it won’t be severe. It could be. So, there are many people I haven’t seen since before the whole fiasco with the pandemic began as well. Basically, we’ve just been keeping in touch via e-mail and social media or else via videoconferences.
You also touched on the whole issue of two solo founders navigating co-ownership of the company. So, I wondered if you would talk a little bit about that.
Kizer: It really has been a learning experience — but such a delightful learning experience — to work with another human being who runs multiple companies of their own. Obviously we have conversations about our marketing approach, but I don’t have to stress about how it’s going to get done. Similarly, anytime Dana is like ‘Hey, we need more images that look like this,’ she doesn’t have to stress about whether we will have them, because I just focus on getting her those images. So, that has been such a relief and, I will say, that’s a reason I didn’t start on this sooner. I just knew that I could not take on all of what an endeavor like this would need. Honestly, it’s been great.
Kaye: I feel like it’s really been the same for me as what Felton said — like his relief of ‘I don’t have to deal with marketing, or I don’t have to deal with any of these logistics,’ my relief is that I don’t have to worry about dealing with photographers. I don’t have to worry about the artists and all the people and different things that need to get done, because Felton is great at working with photographers or else just doing the work himself. I think the thing that worked really well is that Felton, as a working photographer, has been able to cross-purpose. So, if he’s doing a photo shoot for his new coffee company, he can also shoot some photos that could work on Bouquet. If he’s doing an engagement shoot or a dinner party shoot, he can incorporate some photos that would be good for the site. He has a good ecosystem of places he can create, and then the same goes for me. We just started an Instagram campaign to boost awareness. I’m already on Instagram for my company, and I’m already doing all those things. So, why not just add some additional graphics each week and do some for Bouquet? Same with e-mail marketing. I already write e-mail newsletters for my other companies, so I can easily write another one. I think we have different and yet very complimentary skill sets. Our companies themselves — like his is very visual and media-based, whereas mine is more marketing and PR-centric. We kind of take those two roles and combine them for Bouquet.
DeCanniere: It definitely sounds like a very interesting venture. I just think there are a lot of people who’ll be interested, because it really does seem to be building on something that already exists but, more to the point, is improving upon something that already exists. It’s not just more of the same. It’s taking what is there and offering something better.
Kaye: What really excites me about this is the idea that it could impact so many different things in our society. For instance, how amazing is it to see more queer couples on a website for a fertility doctor? Or to see more trans people in a corporate setting? You know? To see what this could potentially do, in terms of having more advertisements reflect the real world. I think that’s what makes me the most excited about it — the potential impact it can have.
DeCanniere: And it certainly is nice to move away from the Leave it to Beaver vision of society — like a mom, dad and 2.5 children. That’s not how it is for many people. There are single parents. There are same-sex parents. You know, there are many different people in many different relationships, and there are many different families that look many different ways, and so much of that has not been reflected in what we see on television, in film or in advertising. For many years, if you went solely by media and pop culture, you’d swear our society was a homogenous one, but that was not the case. If it ever was the case, it has not been the case for many years, and it is less and less the case all the time. I think that’s a wonderful thing. Diversity is a good thing. We shouldn’t be striving for homogeneity and we shouldn’t be depicting our society as such.
Kaye: I think some bigger corporations can afford photo shoots and can jump on the bandwagon but, again, the small to medium businesses — or the PR and marketing agencies — can’t necessarily do that. So, I am glad we’re able to give them the tools so they can then be conscious in their marketing, without having to hire 15 different models, coordinate a photo shoot, pay thousands of dollars, et cetera.
DeCanniere: Absolutely. I could see how it could get rather cost prohibitive rather quickly.
Kaye: Right. Or you don’t have the contacts. That was the other piece. It’s not just Felton’s skills for shooting. He also has contacts for models and locations, and he has a large network of people that a lot of photographers don’t necessarily have.
DeCanniere: It sounds like it really does help ensure people aren’t left out, just because they aren’t part of these massive corporations for whom money seems to be no object.
Kizer: I did also want to speak a little bit more to the idea of collaborating with photographers. I do think that al to of photographers do not enjoy stock websites because of how mundane they are. That’s why there are people who call themselves ‘stock photographers.’ You know, because there is already a formula in place. However, I think that formula is also a part of the problem. Right? When you go on a stock photo website and see it’s 80 percent white cis people, then what are you going to shoot to get on that stock photo website? You want to make money, and so if you see that is already the formula, and you are trying to support yourself, you are going to follow that formula. I think that, for us, we are able to go ‘You are an amazing photographer. This is a place where you don’t have to follow a formula.’
Kaye: There are just some very loose categories.
Kizer: Right. You know? It’s just like ‘Hey, we need more recreational items.’ Whatever that even looks like, right? Let’s also show that people don’t just play basketball, football and soccer. How about badminton? There are just so many other options that are out there. People are doing much more than what is being represented. People look very different than what is being represented. And it’s just about us taking on this really large social task. We just want the world we see to be reflected in Bouquet.
Dana Kaye, Co-Founder and CEO, began her entrepreneurial journey in 2009 when she founded Kaye Publicity, Inc., a boutique PR company specializing in publishing and entertainment. She heavily relied on stock photography for her clients’ websites and social media content, but struggled to find stock photos that were diverse and representative of her clients. That planted the seed for Bouquet Stock Photography. She lives with her wife, son, and dog in Chicago.
Felton Kizer, Co-Founder and Creative Director, is a visual problem solver with an emphasis on inclusive storytelling and portrait photography, through the lens of content creation. He is the founder of Off-Kilter Media, a digital media and publishing house that was born through his love of minimalist design, print, and storytelling. Pulling from influences he observed while growing up in Chicago and working as a portrait photographer, Kizer’s work is a reflection of popular culture traversed through mass media.