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Images with a Purpose: The Photography of HEX

By Charles Purdy

HEX is a photography studio with a serious mission: creating images featuring people from communities that are underrepresented in the media, thereby giving those communities a “visual voice” in popular culture. Made up of a small handful of New York–based photographers, HEX is using photography to challenge classism, racism, sexism, and other societal ills.

Since their first shoot in 2013, the photographers of HEX have operated in a “Trojan horse” style—creating unique, striking, and beautiful images, always with an eye toward inclusion and representation. (HEX makes its images available as an Adobe Stock premium contributor and through other outlets, as well as creating custom images for clients.)

HEX’s photographers create stock images of non-models and people they feel are underrepresented in visual media.

STORYTELLING THROUGH STOCK

Jared Drace, HEX’s head of production, says that one key to creating successful images is being sure that they tell a story. He says, “In our business, in some ways we’re moving into a post-stock world—so the more things look like stereotypical stock, the less clients want them. They want actual stories. So that’s the mindset we have at HEX. We’re trying to produce photographs that really show a person’s life and passions and struggles.”

For HEX, that means starting with skilled photographers that share the HEX aesthetic—the core team is based in New York City, but they work with artists from around the world. Also, they don’t set up typical photo shoots, and they often work with non-models. Drace says, “Our productions are very guerilla-style. We don’t typically have a big crew. We find real people who have interesting stories or occupations, and then we work with them. We choose an intriguing person, and then we go to their apartment or take a journey around the city with them—and we try to get a lot out of a small budget.”

Drace says that the photos from this shoot are representative of the type of work HEX does. “One of our photographers used friends as subjects. The couple pictured are both rappers/musicians, and we set aside a day to go on a journey with them throughout Queens. The chemistry they had with each other and with the photographer really shines through and gives some depth to the images.”

He continues, “I feel that in terms of, you know, stock photos of white people on cell phones—that area has been covered. As photographers, we can’t add anything to that. We’re trying to make ourselves a little more diverse.” So a HEX shoot might entail documenting a lesbian couple as they go about their day together, or photographing a hijab-wearing businesswoman, or visually recording a band while it rehearses.

CHOOSING THE RIGHT VISUALS

While HEX does create some custom work, many of their photographic series are self-initiated. They look for unique stories or brainstorm about images they think are missing from our visual landscape. 

Drace says, “These women did not know each other ahead of time but became very friendly over the course of a few hours...we basically had a small party and photographed the results. We know clients and agencies want diversity, but awkwardly sticking, say, one Asian person, one African-American person, and one white person in a room does not produce the results we want. We aspire to convey the lives of real people in real-life situations.”

Drace explains, “It doesn't always have to  be about race or culture. For instance, I play in bands, so we did a photo shoot of my band’s rehearsal. I’m a long-haired hairy person, so that’s a bit different, and these photos work because it’s an actual band, not a photo shoot where the models might not really know what they are doing. We just had a rehearsal, and it was fly-on-the-wall photography that captured authentic moments.”

For the photographers at HEX, a successful photo is one that makes viewers do a double-take—that strikes a chord with people. But Drace acknowledges that it’s hard to follow a formula—he mentions a HEX photo that has sold particularly well: a pair of hands in the air at a concert.

He adds, “I feel like we have a better chance of giving our photos that striking quality if we’re showing something real. It has to be something that that speaks to the viewer, something that people can relate to.”

Friends and fellow artists feature in many of HEX’s photographs, which Drace feels gives the photos an authentic feeling—whether it’s shooting a photographer and her friend on the roof of her apartment building or capturing a rehearsal of his own band.  

HEX is currently working on new image sets and planning to explore video production. You can find HEX online, on Adobe Stock, and on Instagram.