Slate has a fascinating story on the concept of using stock photography subject matter as a tool to predict where society is heading. The idea being that companies like Getty Images create material in anticipation of demand. They are making visual guesses on what the future will be like, and by watching new stock content you could glimpse future trends.

Slate reports:

To learn more, I got in touch with the creative research department at Getty Images—a major player in the “visual content distribution” field. (Slate is one of Getty’s many clients.) The job of the creative research team is to have photos and video waiting when demand for specific visual content crops up. Some categories of future demand can be fairly easily anticipated. (For instance, Getty has been diligently preparing content related to this summer’s Olympics.) Others are rooted in long-brewing demographic changes. (Getty has done shoots centered on the aging of baby boomers and the growth of America’s Hispanic population.) But some trends are harder to predict—like an economic downturn or a burgeoning interest in holding elaborate funerals for pets (both of which Getty has needed to address). And sometimes demand can suddenly spike in response to an event.

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