Still Images In Great Advertising, is a column where Suzanne Sease discovers great advertising images and then speaks with the photographers about it.
I had the honor to attend the Lucie Awards the year Vincent Dixon won for his amazing ad campaign for Unicef. When I was an art buyer, I was very familiar with Vincent but never had the pleasure of working with him. I went to his website and was pleasantly surprised at the commercial produced work for large clients while giving back for public service campaigns like the Unicef campaign and The Foundation Abbe Pierre. I don’t know the specifics of the campaign but they usually ask for reduced fees to get the message out. And this campaign is so thought provoking that depicting the tragedy of Haiti, that I am sure it took more than just shooting.
AD: Mathias Laurent et Grégoire Lauzon,
Copy Writer: Pierre Clavaud
Art Buyer: Laurence Namhias
Creative Director: Chris Garbutt
Suzanne: Vincent, how did you get involved in this campaign and how much legwork did Unicef do prior to your arrival?
Vincent : Hi Suzanne, I shot this campaign for Unicef in France. I was contacted by Laurence Namhias, the head art buyer at Ogilvy & Mather, Paris and Matthias Laurent who did the creative.
To be honest we pretty much did everything ourselves. I went with Jonathan Orenstein, a photo assistant, who is great in these types of situations and Matthias came from Paris. We shot this over five days about six weeks after the earthquake. We weren’t sure what we would be faced with when we got to Haiti. We knew we needed a stark image of the destruction to really make the concept powerful but were not sure what would be there to shoot. I was worried before getting to Haiti that everything would be cleaned up in the six weeks since the earthquake and that we wouldn’t be able to get background plates, that unfortunately was not the case. Porte Au Prince was basically flattened and since almost all government buildings including hospitals were destroyed there were no government services and tent cities everywhere.
My agent in Paris, Florence, found us a place to stay with a friend’s father who lived in the hills above Porte Au Prince and he drove us around and acted as a guide for us. Mathias, the art director had a friend who worked for an NGO in Porte Au Prince and he helped us find the school and get permission to shoot the kids. We organized everything on the ground and that is one of the reasons I gave myself five days to shoot it, we didn’t know what to expect. If necessary we would have stayed longer.
We drove down to Porte Au Prince every morning at around 5 am and shot pretty much all day. The photo is a composite of different background elements and the school portrait. We also shot other plates as Matthias also wanted elements for additional Unicef projects including wrapping a school in Paris and having a mural outside the Parisian school of Haitian children waiting to get into school.
Working there was so moving, one of the ruins we shot was a flattened school with notebooks and report cards in the rubble. Everywhere you would find personal items like old photos, Music LPs and you never know what became of the people who lived in those buildings. Yet every day by about 8 am people were setting up market stalls in the rubble and getting on with their lives.
Suzanne: How has the campaign had an impact on the rebuilding of Haiti? Have donations continued to come in for Haiti after won the awards?
Vincent: Yes the campaign raised a lot of funds and awareness for UNICEF who were really happy with the results. It ran just as schools reopened after the summer holidays in France. This was about six months after the earthquake which was probably out of a lot of peoples thoughts by then so it was effective putting the relief efforts (which still continue) back in the public consciousness.
Suzanne: What are your thoughts on doing work for NGO’s (non governmental organization) where concepts are different from your work? A lot of the campaigns you are hired to produce have a subtle comical twist while this work does not. What are your thoughts on that?
Vincent: I really love doing work like this on many different levels, there are so many social and environmental issues that we need to be reminded about and often the story telling abilities of advertising are very effective for this. Photographically it is really refreshing for me and you always hope that the campaign will be effective. Quiet often we have little or no money but everyone helps and that is great. I really like the human aspects of these campaigns, for example the kids on the school wrap are happy despite the destruction, which I think was an important thing to say too. There is hope and education is the long-term solution for Haiti which has so many problems.
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Vincent Dixon is represented by Brite Productions in the US.
Irish born Vincent Dixon moved to Paris, France in his early 20’s where he discovered his true passion, photography. Shortly after starting his professional career, he was quickly awarded some of the top campaigns in Europe such as Absolut Europe & Perrier. Those highly visible campaigns, among others, quickly gained him notoriety throughout Europe and North America. An early champion of digital imaging, Vincent embraced the developing technology and quickly made it an integral tool in his work.
APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world. She has been involved in the photography and illustration industry since the mid 80s, after founding the art buying department at The Martin Agency then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies..