The Benetton Baby Ad

In the early 1990s Benetton was making a name for itself with some shocking adverting campaigns that amongst other things included this image of a new born baby. The campaign itself only lasted a few days before it was pulled under the weight of the public outcry that followed. I found one of the billboards in my home town, Cardiff, right in the city centre where a new exhibition hall was in the process of being built. I photographed it and since then have always liked the image with the combination of the new born baby and the new building. The two go together well and make a bigger impact.

A few days later it was removed.

My only regret was that this was the only image I took.

Since then I’ve realised that I can develop my photography more, by taking photo essays and not just single images. Looking back I could have returned to take the picture of the billboard that replaced it. I could have taken it from different angles, especially capturing the looks from passers - whether or not they’d be pleased or horrified by it.

Really I guess, this shows that no matter what we’re always learning about photography and how we can interpret the world around us. And how we can do better to record it so we have more of a three dimensional view of it, rather than a single flat view, which doesn’t give us the depth that looking at this now I’d like to have.

Benetton went on to print a number of other shocking ads that included nun kissing a priest, 3 identical hearts from people with different coloured skin. Turning back the clock I would have liked to have taken these images as well, looking for similar connections. Perhaps near a church or hospital respectively.

I notice that billboards have been a recurring theme now that I look back over the 25 years since taking this picture. Advertising says a lot about the time and place that we’re in. The fashions, styles, technology and even social change is documented in them, plus the backdrops of the cities that you find these billboards in changes, constantly. It’s one of the fascinations I have about shooting street photography images.

As for Benetton, I believe they are more mainstream now with their ad campaigns, no longer needing or wanting to run such shocking ads. It’s another reason for us photographers to shoot images like this, so that they are recorded for posterity.

Photo details - originally shot on a Bronica SQA camera on Fuji Velvia film, f16-22.

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