Photography Wars: Advertising Just Got Kidnapped by Green Artists

Photography Wars: Advertising Just Got Kidnapped by Green Artists

Photography, like any visual art, can serve a purpose bigger than its original intention; it's not merely a way to capture an instant. In our consumerist society, it is a weapon.

As Paris prepared to welcome leaders of the world for the UN Climate Change Summit, the UK-based guerilla art collective, Brandalism, took over Paris using classical advertising techniques to call on the general hypocrisy related to climate discussions. On Black Friday, the most hectic and competitive shopping day of the year, more than 600 pieces of art criticizing the hypocrisy of allowing certain companies to sponsor the summit were placed inside JCDecaux billboard spaces. Joe Elan from Brandalism said:

By sponsoring the climate talks, major polluters such as Air France and GDF-Suez-Energie can promote themselves as part of the solution, when actually, they are part of the problem.

Other prominent corporate sponsors of the climate talks, such as Mobil and Dow Chemicals, are parodied in the posters, whilst heads of state such as Francois Hollande, David Cameron, Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, and Shinzo Abi are not left untarnished. Over 80 renowned artists from 19 countries created the artwork, including Neta Harari, Jimmy Cauty, Banksy-collaborator Paul Insect, Escif, and Kennard Phillips.

The genius of some of these fake ads is that they replicated the advertising identity of the brands in question. Onlookers were thus also reminded that photography is just a tool and advertising, often far from being truth, is merely a way to sell a product. An image might be worth a thousand words, but the message conveyed depends on who is doing the talking. One of the artists taking part said:

We are taking their spaces back because we want to challenge the role advertising plays in promoting unsustainable consumerism. Because the advertising industry force-feeds our desires for products created from fossil fuels, they are intimately connected to causing climate change. As is the case with the climate talks and their corporate-sponsored events, outdoor advertising ensures that those with the most amount of money are able to ensure that their voices get heard above all else.”

Images used with permission of Brandalism


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Deleted Account's picture

Anna, I totally agree with you that photography can be a weapon.

Advertising is not art, it's propaganda. The people that work in advertising are definitely utilizing elements of art. But those elements are just the veneer of art that hides the reality of pure propaganda. The very fact that this UK collective was able to so effectively imitate the look of advertising proves that it really is a craft or a technique that involves formula. Art can never be reduced to formula.

Hopefully, this instance of "Brandalism" could serve as a reminder to aspiring photographers that working in advertising is not necessarily as great as it may seem. There's nothing more disgusting than prostituting ourselves to these corporations. I'll never understand why so many aspiring photographers are in such a hurry to become "tools" in the service of merchant monopolies.

Prefers Film's picture

"I'll never understand why so many aspiring photographers are in such a hurry to become "tools" in the service of merchant monopolies."


Mr Blah's picture

I'm actually amazed that Mike didn't see this as simple as that.

Money. Answer is, money. It's always money...

Deleted Account's picture

I'm not 100% certain that photographers eat each other alive to promote these corporations just because of money. Yes, the aspiring photographers that believe the "you can be a pro" dream might think that they can make money at photography, but that's just because they're desperate to find a way to quit their day jobs. The people that are actually working in advertising will probably be the first to say that they're not really making much money.

The thing about money is that it's all relative. Forgive me for telling a personal story, but everybody that works in photography eventually has an "a-ha" type of moment about how little money there actually is to make as a photographer. It happened for me when I was an assistant on a food shoot for a restaurant at a resort. I can't remember the exact numbers, but the photographer was getting paid somewhere between 7-12 thousand dollars to do the one day shoot. I was going to make probably 125 dollars for the day, so the photographer's rate seemed like enormous money to me at the time. But during the shoot, the art director got to talking about how he had to argue with the client to get that photo rate and in the process let us know that the budget for posting these photos on billboards alone was $500,000! That's just billboards! The photo was going to be in brochures and magazine ads too. In the end, what is it to a giant company to spend a few grand on a photograph when they're spending 100s of thousands or millions on ad placement? Photography costs nothing. It's chump change in the vast scheme of things.

So why are photographers all obsessed with working in advertising when there really isn't that much money to be made (relatively speaking)? I think it honestly has to do with the fact that many of us are stupid enough to think that advertising is the same as art. And in our minds, we actually think that making an ad for a company is the same as making art. We pat ourselves on the back for being "creatives" while ignoring the fact that we're being used as tools.

Prefers Film's picture

So you're saying a day rate of $7-12k is chump change? Or that we should just buy billboards and rent the space?

Twelve years ago, I contracted to a photographer who had one main client that paid him a consistent $30k each month, year after year. He still had other jobs, but the bulk of his daily work was to throw on shorts and a t-shirt, and ride his motorcycle the two miles to his studio. There, he shot products for a catalog that has probably been seen by every single US reader of this site. Yes, $360k might be nothing to a company that has annual revenue of more than $40 billion. But it's not chump change by any measure.

Ralph Hightower's picture

And as Volkswagen demonstrated in recent news, their engineers figured out how to cheap the United States EPS emission and mileage requirements.
I'm only mentioning VW since the intro photo shows the Beetle.

Bill Binns's picture

This is criminal vandalism and nothing more. Very little to do with photography. I would prefer that Fstoppers didn't encourage or publicize this sort of thing.

Anna Dabrowska's picture

Happily the constitution protects freedom of speech!

Bill Binns's picture

I hope you are bringing up freedom of speech within the context that you should be able to freely write about whatever you want. Of course I agree. This does not mean that FStoppers needs to publish what you write.

If you were implying that the criminal activities you wrote about should somehow be protected as free speech I guess we have nothing worth speaking about.

Deleted Account's picture

Thanks for this post Bill. The information about the ad space was ambiguous enough that I assumed it was purchased by the group. If they simply hijacked the space, then they are nothing but vandals. In that case, you're 1000% correct that this type of activity shouldn't be promoted.

This thread has actually been enlightening because it further reinforces my belief that photographers are completely confused about what is the difference between art and advertising. They tend to think that they are the same. Creating "anti-advertising" is no more an art than creating advertising. In fact, both sides just reinforce each other by keeping the conversation about advertising which is something that will always be controlled by capital.

Also, this group has the tell-tale signs of being controlled opposition. It's very easy for corporations to create their own groups that pose as opposition and then coordinate them into engaging in unlawful activities in order to demonize their genuine opposition.

Sorry, I should have paid closer attention before making my original posts in this thread.

Prefers Film's picture

This is definitely news to photographers and anyone working in the advertising industry. Not only should people be made aware of the hypocrisy, but it's a reminder that if you have a conscience, you should choose your clients wisely.

Bill Binns's picture

In the age of the internet, nobody needs to commit crimes to get their message out.