The body of a silverback gorilla, one of the world’s most endangered primates, is carried out of a park in the Congo by locals and rangers. The image is one of the most memorable pictures taken by award-winning photojournalist Brent Stirton. Speaking to an audience of advertising professionals at the Cannes Lions in June, the South African conservation photographer discussed how he got the shot while on assignment for Newsweek and the challenges of his often-dangerous work. "In our job, we come up to good and evil and it becomes very clear who should we should be supporting," he said.
While the working life of a photojournalist and an advertising creative couldn’t be more different, Stirton described a few similarities. There are common skills required, like the ability to tell a story in a single image, for one, and even salesmanship. "Our job is similar to the advertising work that you do in that we are trying to sell you something," Stirton told attendees of a talk about "Storytelling from the frontline." "It's the notion that you should care about an issue," he said. "And if we do it well, it works on multiple levels."
Getty Images is introducing a new subsidiary this week dedicated to bringing those journalistic skills to the advertising and brand community. Verbatim launches this week with a roster that includes some of the most respected photojournalists and videographers in the world. In addition to Stirton, the talent includes Tom Stoddart, who has documented the HIV/AIDS pandemic in sub-Sahara Africa, Jonathan Torgovnik, who has chronicled the stories of women in Rwanda with "Intended Consequences," and Pulitzer Prize winner Lynsey Addario, author of "It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War" and soon to be the subject of an upcoming Steven Spielberg film starring Jennifer Lawrence.
"The potential of imagery to provoke conversation and drive change is unquestionable; it is what drives me every day as a photojournalist. Photography has the ability to get under people’s skin so that they think about things they usually wouldn’t think about," said Addario, in a press release. "Through Verbatim, brands will have the opportunity to collaborate on important projects, and highlight relevant social and cultural issues."
Verbatim is the brainchild of CEO Aidan Sullivan, a former photo editor of the Sunday Times Magazine, who for the last seven years has represented the photojournalists for editorial work through Getty Images’ Reportage unit. With editorial budgets shrinking and advertisers’ appetites for socially-conscious and documentary-style work growing, Sullivan felt the time was right to form a venture representing the global network of photographers he has worked with throughout his career for commercial assignments.
Photojournalists provide the real-world storytelling brands are increasingly looking for today, he said, particularly to effectively connect with millennials. "This generation is looking for impactful and authentic storytelling," said Sullivan. "They need to look at something and believe it. They want it to be powerful, and they want it to have a message."
Many of the photojournalists have experience with commercial work, said Sullivan. Last year, 360i commissioned Shaul Schwartz, an Israeli photojournalist and documentarian, and a team of filmmakers to create a video series for Toyota that examined how the bad driving habits of parents affect their children. And Gillian Laub, a New York-based filmmaker who created the HBO documentary "Southern Rites," recently shot a brand campaign for Fusion TV and SS+K called "As American As." The work celebrates the nation’s diversity with portraits of all kinds of Americans. An exhibit has been traveling around the country in a college tour and outdoor ads are rolling out in select cities, with TV ads and digital video to follow.
Armando Flores, creative director at SS+K, said the agency was looking for talent skilled with real people. And "photojournalists have a special eye that can add a lot to what brands are doing," he added.
"For the last several years, brands have been coming to us wanting to tell a different type of story," said Monica Bloom, global vp of integrated marketing at Getty Images. "It’s the right time for us to devote a separate group to helping those brands achieve the authenticity and storytelling they see is really impactful."
Getty Images will continue to syndicate the editorial work of Sullivan’s roster through Reportage, but will no longer commission editorial assignments for them.
"As much as I love editorial—it's been my entire life—it is not sustainable," said Sullivan.
Verbatim will dedicate a percentage of its profits to a fund that will be used to support the passion projects of its photographers.
Photojournalism has been Sullivan’s passion ever since he was a teenager, living in a seaside town in England. He leveraged a picture he took of one of the country’s oldest amusement parks going up in flames into a photographer’s assistant job at a local newspaper that published the image on his 18th birthday. He’s been hooked ever since and built a career in photojournalism, first in music (he toured with the Clash) and later in conflict photography (in Northern Ireland and Afghanistan), before he gave up working behind the camera to become a photo editor (he was director of photography at the Sunday Times for 14 years), and in more recent years, as an agent.
"Imagery has become the new language because there are no language barriers. An image is an image is an image. If it's a verbatim, it's exactly what you started out with," said Sullivan, explaining the thinking behind the new company's name. "It’s authentic. It's real. It's exactly as it should be. It's verbatim. ... And, I like the sound of it."