Citizen Stock featured in the Wall Street Journal

April 2012

April 13, 2012, 7:14 p.m. ET
The Everyman’s Photo Op
Husband-and-Wife Photographers Aim to Use People as Themselves for Stock Shots
By PIA CATTON

A husband-and-wife photography team stages shoots with regular New Yorkers to generate the stock
photos used in glossy brochures and ads. Even if models and actors show up, they aren’t allowed to pose.

It’s not exactly Glamour Shots, but anyone can be a model at the photo agency Citizen Stock. People of every height, weight and age are recruited at this NoHo studio because, as the Citizen Stock tag line says: “Fake People Suck.”

Launched in 2010 by photographers Sherrie Nickol and David Katzenstein, Citizen Stock generates images of real people wearing their own clothes, with minimal hair and makeup improvements. The pictures are often bought by creative agencies, companies or nonprofits looking to project authenticity in their ad campaigns, fundraising brochures or internal documents.


Mark Abramson for The Wall Street Journal
Citizen Stock’s David Katzenstein photographs Samantha Cocchi, as her family and others watch.

“Our intent is to bring out the people themselves,” said Mr. Katzenstein. “We go through a series of emotions with each person.”

The “models” are paid if their image is selected for use. Together, Ms. Nickol and Mr. Katzenstein, who are married, have photographed more than 2,500 people, who earn 10% of the revenue Citizen Stock makes when a license for a picture is purchased. That can generate anywhere from $25 to $750 a year for the models.

Citizen Stock is an outgrowth of the recession, during which Ms. Nickol and Mr. Katzenstein saw commissions for their commercial and corporate projects—such as shooting a company’s employees for annual reports—were dwindling. They decided to start a new business that was an extension of their artistic work? they tend to depict people in their fine art photography, which is on display in their studio.

Stock images that include people can depict them in almost any emotion and environment, with degrees of polish or authenticity. One of the largest repositories is iStockphoto, which offers millions of images. In an analysis of its top 10 images in different markets, iStockphoto found 40% to 60% include people. “When designers are doing an ad, having a person it in mimics conversational contact,” James LealValias, director of brand development at iStockphoto.


Mark Abramson for The Wall Street Journal
Mr. Katzenstein and Sherrie Nickol

Citizen Stock shoots exclusively against a white background, an approach that makes dropping the image into publications easy. Images are sold for specific uses: If the end use is a sensitive subject—such as a pharmaceutical ad for a condition that might be embarrassing— models are asked to sign a consent form. (They are also developing a lowfee structure to meet the growing need for images on the Web.)

About once a week, Citizen Stock hosts a shooting day when anyone can sign up? a typical day draws 15 to 20 people. They’re given instructions to bring three outfits, especially bright colors and no logos. Before a recent shoot, Stephanie Cocchi, a budding stage mother, and her three daughters (ages 4, 6 and 7) presented their clothing options, which included several bright Tshirts. “Oh, you read the directions!” said Ms. Nickol. “Most people don’t.”

Ms. Nickol and Mr. Katzenstein swap the prepping, shooting and business work to keep the day on schedule. When Ms. Nickol starts to direct a shoot, she warms them up by asking them to talk to a picture of President Obama: “What would you like to say to President Obama?” she asks.

Often the participants are actors, so running through different emotions is easy. “Look out the window and look worried,” she instructed Tommy McInnis, 50 years old. “Now run in place!”

One of the most successful genres for Citizen Stock is multigenerational families. That was the need for the ad agency Red Deluxe, in Memphis, Tenn., when it was creating marketing materials for the nonprofit Youth Villages, which helps atrisk children. “We were telling case studies, and they included details that made us want to protect the identities of the children,” said Martin Wilford, creative director of Red Deluxe. He bought a series of images that depicted children, looking angry or troubled, as well as a second series with those same children, looking happier, with their elders.

Happy people worked out well for the California Coast Credit Union, in San Diego, Calif., which bought about 12 images for an ad campaign for free checking and car loans. One image, of a young woman dancing, became a signature of the campaign. Jennifer Elleson, marketing and brand manager, said she went with the images because people looked like everyday folks. Citizen Stock “lets people be themselves, and that’s what we respond to as consumers,” she said.

But shooting pictures consumers will respond to isn’t always easy: Some of Citizen Stock’s models are people who have never been professionally shot before. They can be stiff or uncomfortable in front of the camera. “We’re sometimes limited if they are really real people,” said Mr. Katzenstein.

Write to Pia Catton at [email protected]
A version of this article appeared April 14, 2012, on page A23 in some U.S. editions of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: The Everyman’s Photo Op.

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