So. I was asked by a Dutch magazine to shoot a photo in honor of Pride in collaboration with Absolut Vodka. We (me and seven other queer photographers) had to create an image involving the Pride edition of the Absolut bottle. I liked the initiative: the proceeds from the Pride bottle will go to the Gilbert Baker Foundation. (Gilbert Baker is the creator and designer of the rainbow flag and has been working with Absolut since 2008).
There were a few restrictions on the commission (for example: no people under 25 in the picture, and no explicit nudity), but apart from the few restrictions the artists were free to do whatever they wanted. The idea that immediately came to mind was to create a biblical scene in club Nyx. A bit daring, but I wanted to do something with the symbolism of the rainbow, and where would it be addressed more beautifully classical painting. The image above is the photo as I delivered it. I didn't want to give too much explanation because I think the suggestion in the image is so important, but the enclosed text I provided was:
"Inspired by classical painting, I created a biblical scene with queer models in a club. But you may also see six partygoers reaching for vodka. Or any other symbolism hidden in the image. Try it."
The day after submitting, I received a panicked call from the magazine in question: suddenly, while all photos had already been submitted, Absolut had changed the restrictions: religious references were not allowed and the photo would absolutely (ha) not be published. The magazine tried their best to get the publication to go through, but Absolut threatened to ban the entire edition and that was too big a risk for the magazine.
It wasn’t my original plan to explain the various interpretations that could be given to the photo, but the irony of the incident almost forces me to do it anyway. It is the big, powerful brands and agencies that have us in control and dependent on them. I call Absolut's backtracking after seeing my photo pure censorship and I think it's cowardly. I understand the need to be careful. But as much as I like the caution that has become so typical of the times we live in, it does make things totally flat. And consequently it gets in the way of artistic freedom.
I’m posting the photo on my own platforms anyway, because luckily, I’m still free to make and publish whatever I desire.