Stock image site Unsplash practices photo distancing

Photo by Charles Etoroma on Unsplash
Photo by Charles Etoroma on Unsplash

Homepage features photographs of separation that drift apart to illustrate these isolating times.

Unsplash, a stock photo database that reaches more than 300 million people per month, is using its best resources to tell the story of the coronavirus pandemic: photos. 

The site is curating images taken by amateur photographers around the world who are uploading photos that depict isolation and protective measures. The homepage grid of images also inch apart in an animated display of photo distancing.

Unsplash updated its homepage after its co-founders noticed how the site was filling with coronavirus-related images, from China, Italy and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) itself, which uploaded a microscopic close-up of the virus. 

"I was on the homepage one day and I saw images from the CDC, from people in different countries, where I didn’t know how the governments were treating things, and a library of hundreds of images started to build up," said Mikael Cho, one of Unsplash’s co-founders and its CEO. "It happened within a couple days, and I kept thinking, we are in the position to tell this story."

Another Unsplash co-founder, Luke Chesser, came up with the idea to have the images drift apart on the homepage, which features tips from the World Health Organization on avoiding this illness. 

Approximately 115 million searches on Unsplash over the last two weeks have been for COVID-19 or coronavirus, reports Cho. 

Images range from a deserted beach resort, a child doing his schoolwork outside and a sole human in an empty parking lot. An Italian photographer uploaded a shot of a mask-wearing teddy bear next to a bottle of disinfectant.

One of Cho’s favorite images is of a caucasian man wearing a face mask, which was taken in Hong Kong and used by Forbes to illustrate a coronavirus story.

"Asian people, Chinese people are always wearing masks in images," said Cho. "This subtle association, of seeing an image that is not of a person of Chinese or Asian descent, represents the worldwide spread."

Advertising agencies are tapping into Montreal-based Unsplash to locate imagery. Meanwhile, brands are using the site to subtly push positioning points in the greater public arena. Harley Davidson, for example, is uploading images under tags like adventure and freedom, augmenting important brand associations.

"That’s how you become a part of the visual language," says Cho.

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