How Karen Okonkwo Is Transforming Stock Photography with Images of Diverse People and Their Stories

A 29-year-old Nigerian-American serial entrepreneur, Karen Okonkwo is transforming the idea of stock photography by displaying images of diverse people and their stories around the world, through her platform, TONL.

Karen was working on a project when she realized that she wasn’t able to present any sort of diversity in her work because she couldn’t find images that portrayed it.

To address the issue, she co-founded TONL in August 2017. As written on its website, TONL’s mission is to enhance voice and visibility.

“Photography and storytelling can help humanize and hopefully diminish the stereotypes and prejudice against black and brown people, especially. We wanted to challenge the stale, homogenous look of traditional stock photography by showcasing the many ethnic backgrounds of everyday people.”

To shift the focus of people away from seeing the world as only white, Karen decided to showcase black people.

“What you see in TONL’s photos is a reflection of our personal circle. When we first started, we saw no reason to tag our photos as “black girl” or “Mexican man.” But we eventually made the decision to do so, to the best of our ability. We recognize the power in providing proper identifiers; it’s important to embrace people’s identities.”

After the launch of their website, the responses have been so great that Karen considers it her greatest accomplishment amongst other things she has done.

One of TONL’s features is the Narratives Section, which draws attention to the personal stories of their photo subjects. As a believer of authentic storytelling, the co-founders wanted to find a way to add an educational element to the pictures.



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