Whenever I see stock photography, I'm reminded of Ancient Greek theater. This is what happens when you put yourself in debt in order to attend a fancy art school. You justify the burden by seeing the arts in practically everything.
Anyway! In Ancient Greece, actors wore big masks called prosopon. Today, the concept of concealing an actor's face seems counterintuitive, but at that time, the prosopon was crucial to the audience's enjoyment of a play. Amphitheaters were massive, and they lacked the supplementary video screens we now associate with live events. From the cheap seats, most viewers couldn't see or hear an actor. Prosopon, which were considerably larger than an actor's head and were designed with what look like cartoonish features, along with an acoustic shape, allowed actors to project a feeling and character type to a viewer a thousand feet away. The visual shorthand sacrificed detail for reach.
Stock footage is drama distilled
Stock footage, for me, does the same. It needs to convey, without the benefits of words, time, or context, a specific emotion or dramatic cue. The stock footage director and actor use larger-than-life performance and visuals to distill something human — proposing to a partner, applying for a new job, receiving a phone call with bad news — into something broad like love, anxiety, or fear.
We're just seeing this video now, but 10 months ago Ottawa-based video editor Marissa King inverted the broad function of stock footage, assembling it together into a short film. When combined, the generic moments are given purpose and context. The effect is strange, like how I imagine it would have felt in the Greek theater if actors had ditched their masks and tried to act with their real faces for the first time. The short film doesn't quite work as pleasurable drama, but as an experiment — can generic footage on the internet be spliced into drama — it feels like a step toward something new.