A billboard about Love

"Hi Ett. We need you to shoot an image for a billboard, and it needs to be ready to print in 2 days"

On a Wednesday afternoon I got a call from a guy who had been commissioned by the folks at BrandIQ, a company that owns loads of billboards here in South Africa. BrandIQ wants to use some of their billboards for more than advertising products - their vision is to use their billboards as a way to encourage, inspire, and motivate people in our city.  So the call I received was about making one of those images, and this post is the way it all came together.

My brief was to make an image that conveyed unconditional love. The kind of love that can change the world. My brief was "Our Courage and Strength Lies In Our Love For One Another". I was also encouraged to speak into the racism that is such a big part of us and our history.

From the very first moment I had heard the brief, I had a really specific idea in mind. I wanted a photo of a young black girl giving something to a white, homeless man begging on the street. That image immediately came to mind, and I'm an impulsive guy, so I went with it. 

I refined it by putting a toy in the little girl's one hand, and a sandwich in the other. 

There were a couple of hurdles between the concept and the final image.  It usually looks something like this. 

 This is what planning a shoot usually feels like...

This is what planning a shoot usually feels like...

So here's what needed to happen. I needed to source models, find a location, props, styling, and wardrobe. I also needed to find assistants for the shoot. Along with that, the billboard is huge - 48x12m - so I wanted to shoot this on a medium format camera. Fortunately, the folks over at Sunshine Company were generous enough to hook me up with the Hasselblad H5D-50C, along with a couple of lenses. This monster would allow me to create the resolution I wanted for such a huge image.

I managed to find great models - the "homeless white guy" was a guy someone on Facebook pointed me to. He had a great beard and the exact look I wanted. The little black girl was actually the daughter of one of my mom's colleagues. Our homeless man was dressed in an old, weathered, torn wool blanket that my dogs sleep on - filthy and covered in dog hair. 

So here's what the final image speaks of: This little girl sees a homeless man begging on the street. She sees he's poor and hungry. To her, that sandwich and toy will solve many of his problems, but in reality, the toy means nothing, and the sandwich will only carry him for an hour. She also doesn't see skin colour the way we do. With the history we have here in South Aftica, skin colour is visible to us all - both racists and non-racists. So ultimately, she sees a problem, and she feels she has the solution in her hands. She's got no criteria for him, no agenda, nothing - she just has unconditional love for this man. I personally believe that if we could all love each other like this, we could change the world in a special way. Sometimes it takes a hell of a lot of courage to love this way, but we should have that courage and do it. 

Anyway, the location I chose was a great spot right in the heart of Pretoria Central - a market in a busy street. 

So, we showed up on the Friday set up, and got shooting. This is the final image. Click it for a bigger version:

Final Shot

You can view a BTS video about the shoot here:

Huge thanks to my buddy Alon Cohen for the fantastic video. 

Here's the photo on the billboard. If you look closely, you can see me underneath the print:

 That's me at the bottom...

That's me at the bottom...

The lighting was pretty straightforward - I had a 5' octa with a speed light on camera right creating the light on the girl and the rim on the guy. Along with that, I had an assistant bounce some of the light into the girl's face. This assistant was actually standing in the frame, and she was masked out in post. Here's a diagram:

 Really simple lighting setup.

Really simple lighting setup.

I'd like to thank everyone who helped on this job again. I couldn't have done it without you guys!

Assistants: Adele Nqeto, Alon Cohen, Bernard Brand
BTS Video: Alon Cohen
Models: Jo Engelbrecht, Little girl's name kept for obvious reasons
Gear: Sunshine Company
Photography/Retouching: Ett Venter

Let me know what you think!