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July 26, 2011
There's No Catch. There's No Art.
 
I run a free online stock photography collective called Unprofound.com, a site born of my frustration in obtaining usable images online for my designs and interfaces. In 2001, tired of costly stock photo houses and “free” photos (usually of a lower quality and buried under endless ads, signup forms, or confusing licenses), I decided to buy a camera and simply shoot what I needed.
 
Shooting my own images resolved my quandary, but quickly left me holding a lot of extra content. It seemed like a good idea to put those additional photos online for anyone to use and, hopefully, help others who experienced the same problems with finding usable images. Soon after, I invited people to join the site and donate their own photos to the cause.
 
A decade later, the website is a self-sustaining pool of photographers who graciously give permission to anyone to use their images in any way they like, no questions asked. Visitors can spend less time worrying about usage rights and focus more on their overall project. It is important for artists to help one another out like this, especially today. There are a lot of seemingly helpful websites that liberally use the word “free,” though there always seems to be a catch: If these sites don’t want your money, it’s your information they’re after. The Internet can be a “nickel-and-dime” factory and free alternatives are imperative in maintaining accessibility. It’s also just nice to encounter a resource that really is “no strings attached.”
 
It’s simple enough to do, with the global web connecting one third of the world’s population and high-resolution cameras so accessible. A candid photo I take of Hollywood Boulevard could be exactly what someone across the globe is searching for...so why not let them have it?
 
In the past ten years, the types of artists contacting me have become much more varied. The techno elite now share the resource with people needing images for use in church newsletters, postcards, educational textbooks, magazine ads, grade school assignments, screensavers, and video games. The site gets permissions requests from all over the globe and it’s satisfying to provide something that is useful and appreciated. It’s inspiring. It is a way for me to be charitable when money is tight. Helping someone finish a creative project yields some really great thank-you emails and many times they’ve helped start my day off right.
 
I have been contacted by for-profit photo sites to co-op and include their images, but declined as it would defeat the purpose of Unprofound. The project does not exist to advertise. It is strictly a resource.
 
Like the front page states: “Use it, abuse it, just let us know where we can see it.” 

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Jim Kunz is a filmmaker/photographer and owner of Creatively Bankrupt Productions in Los Angeles, CA. More at twitter.com/kunz.
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