In an exclusive interview with PetaPixel, Galimberti says that he has already lost multiple job opportunities and photo gigs owing to his involvement in Balenciaga’s shoot that featured child models holding teddy bears dressed in bondage gear.
“Yes. Honestly, yes, I have worried that I will never work again. Because especially for the first week, everybody was thinking that I was guilty because Balenciaga didn’t do anything to take responsibility for what was happening,” he says.
“I was supposed to have an exhibition on December 7 but it’s been canceled, I had a publication scheduled with National Geographic for 2023 but again that was canceled,” Galimberti continues.
“I was dealing with a contractor who wanted to buy three of my prints. But he clearly told me that since the scandal with Balenciaga: ‘I’m sorry but I cannot buy your prints.'”
The renowned documentary photographer, whose work — which includes The Ameriguns and Toy Stories — is critically acclaimed, has received thousands of death threats following the scandal, many of which have been seen by PetaPixel.
Below are a few examples of those threats, with identification removed:
Galimberti was unfairly made to be the scapegoat for the Balenciaga campaign. Balenciaga later said it would not sue him, but the damage was done. Social media not only tried to blame the photographer for the shoot but also cruelly dissected his previous work.
“I received thousands and thousands of messages, emails, and death threats saying they know where I live and ‘we’re coming to kill you.’ Thousands of messages like this, not only one or two,” he says.
“I’ve received phone calls in the middle of the night because somebody put my number on Twitter inviting people to threaten me. I was worried, not only for my job but for everything. I tried to get in touch with Balenciaga many times asking them to take responsibility for everything.”
His First Advertising Campaign
Galimberti says he took the job with Balenciaga — which was his first advertising campaign — because it paid 20 times more than his usual work as a documentary photographer.
“When I accepted this job, I have to be honest and say that I did it for money. When I work for documentary projects, even for my biggest clients, the maximum I get paid is $500 per day and you are traveling and you are away for a month,” he says.
“So when Balenciaga comes to you and they offer 20 times more, it’s not easy to say no. With the amount of money Balenciaga gave me I could pay a year’s rent on my house.”
Galimberti explains that he was simply hired by Balenciaga as a photographer and had little say in the campaign’s content. However, he trusted the 25 other people who were making all the decisions on the Balenciaga set.
The photographer says he lit the scene and then, using mannequins, took photos which were downloaded immediately to a computer and approved remotely by Balenciaga headquarters within one to two hours.
He said that when the lighting and styling were agreed on, the mannequins were then swapped for the children who were accompanied by their parents. Within five minutes of their arrival, Galimberti had taken the photo.
“I’m a documentary photographer and this was my first time working for the fashion industry,” he says. “The way I take pictures is that I take photos of everything I find in front of my eyes. I really don’t choose anything. When you do a documentary, you follow what you find. I applied the same concept to this shoot.”
Galimberti says that despite Balenciaga’s initial response to public blowback, he personally did not decide on the content of the shoot.
“Balenciaga chose everything. They gave the bags to the kids,” he says.
“I was probably naive not to think about these objects, but I don’t work in fashion. So when they told me the whole collection and the bags were punk-inspired, I trusted them. I’m not stupid, if they were giving a dildo to the kids, of course that would have been clear. I would have said no, you’re going too far guys,” Galimberti continues.
“But when I saw these bags, I thought that maybe they were ugly, but I didn’t think we were going too far.”
‘The Photographer Only Has a Little Voice’
Galimberti says he has considered what he could have done differently at the Balenciaga shoot, but it is difficult to know what he could have done when photographers have such little say on a shoot for a global brand.
“It’s true in this kind of situation when you work with a big brand, and you do a campaign, the photographer only has a little voice,” Galimberti explains.
“Let’s say I could go back in time and I said I didn’t want to take a picture of this bag, maybe Balenciaga would not have accepted my excuse. I signed a contract before going there and in the contract, it says I have to photograph for them and not for me. So if they decide to put this bag in the picture, I have to take the photo with the bag. I cannot really say no unless I refuse the work.”
Galimberti explains that prior to arriving on set, he had never seen the fashion line.
“When I was in Paris shooting these photos, I saw these objects for the first time in my life when I was on set. I had never seen the objects before. I was already there with a signed contract. If at that moment, I said I didn’t want to take this photo because the bag’s too much, not only would I lose the job but I would have to pay something to Balenciaga because I’m not respecting the contract,” he says.
Galimberti’s advice to other photographers would be to ask a client for “control over everything” with the final images — especially if there are children involved in a photoshoot.
“Honestly at the time, I was just happy to do this nice job for a big brand. Everyone at the Balenciaga shoot looked like a professional and I trusted them. That was my mistake,” the photographer explains.
“If something like this ever happens to me again, I know I need to take care of every single detail in the picture. I cannot trust anyone. That’s probably the biggest lesson.”
Image credits: Gabriele Galimberti