Guest post by contributor Julian Jackson.
The UK has a plethora of photographic agencies and imagery sources. These range from big organizations which have photolibraries, like the BBC, through medium-sized companies like Alamy, to a large range of specialist libraries and hundreds of museums that have awesome collections of photographs, paintings and illustrations in their archives.
Two significant portals to these collections are StockIndexOnline.com and BAPLA – the British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies, the UK equivalent of PACA (which has just changed its name to the Digital Media Licensing Association). Both websites have searchable directories of libraries. (Disclaimer: I write the news articles on StockIndex, so I do have a dog in this race, but the site is one of the most important gateways to the UK picture industry. My remit is to feature news about the industry in general, and buyers and sellers news worldwide, so I welcome news and press releases from picture suppliers.)
BAPLA has existed since 1975 and is run by an executive of 12 elected members, backed by a small full-time staff. It has over 200 picture library members, ranging from the smallest operations to Corbis and Getty Images. It has an international outlook and liases closely with PACA and the European trade association, CEPIC. One of the major strengths of BAPLA is that it keeps an eye on forthcoming legislation, and where necessary mobilizes the various industry bodies and trade associations to lobby on behalf of the industry. UK Members of Parliament are always happy to bang on about the wonderful “British Creative Industries”, but few of them seem to have any understanding of the complex patchwork and synergy of artists, designers, photographers, photo and footage libraries, film-makers, publication and distribution arms, and craft tradespeople that make it work, so they often bring on ill-thought-out legislation and a struggle ensues to avoid damage, and BAPLA has often commendably been at the forefront of these battles. BAPLA would probably call this, in a British way ”politely but firmly putting forward dissenting views about pending legislation’ but they often seem like battles to me.
BAPLA also produces excellent fact sheets about industry topics – some are only available to members but others are free to download from their website.
They have a search system, under “Image Supplier A-Z”. Inputting a keyword will give you a selection of library links, which take you to a summary page with a few images, and contact details and you can click a link to go to the library’s website. There is also an image request facility where you can have BAPLA email libraries about your particular request. BAPLA also posts industry jobs, news, and has a discussion forum.
StockIndexOnline has been going since 1979, originally as a published guide to photolibraries, and now a website as well. Researchers can get a free copy of the book by filling the form out on the website. Bob Prior, publisher, says, “There is an important need to give a voice to the specialist libraries, and that is what StockIndex has always been there to do.” Like BAPLA the StockIndex has a searchable directory of members, although where the StockIndex’s search is superior is that it brings up a selection of images which are directly linked to the supplier’s site, so they can be licensed, downloaded or added to a lightbox. Buyers can also send in an email request. StockIndex has a directory of picture researchers, and links to other areas of the creative industries.
The two portals are not really rivals, indeed many libraries are members of both, and we often feature BAPLA news on the StockIndex site. Both portals are strong in unusual, creative and specialist image suppliers. If you take a tour round either search engine or browse their listings you will find a massive amount of imagery of all kinds, from ultra-scientific microscopy, to specialist wine photography, to treasures of archives and museums….and everything in between.
If there is a tip, it is to phone the library with a request. The specialist libraries are there because they love visual imagery. Often the smaller ones have a great deal that is not digitized but would be if they get a specific request for some material, because they can then justify adding it to their digital collection. They also have specialist staff who are delighted to help with research, and often have absolutely enormous knowledge of specialist subjects which can add a lot of value to a project and often dig up rare and amazing images after discussing it with the client, rather than just working from a picture list.