Here’s why Billy and Coleen’s pre-wedding photos were a creative failure

Header by Ina Jacobe

While I’m all for making a good photograph happen, creatives should also be aware of the cultural impact of their work. Sure, art is supposed to make people think or at least feel something. But a creative brief or concept should also be communicated well especially if a client is paying for it. If you don’t use your work for good, then I’m not sure if your work is any good at all.

I’m a fan of really good pre-wedding photos as much as the next person, but the “unofficial” ones  Billy Crawford and Coleen Garcia still chose to release were the complete opposite. In the photos published by official creative team Metrophoto, you can see the couple posing in different locations in Lalibela, Ethiopia, wearing heavily printed outfits (which we learned are not African) and not looking very happy.  


The couple faced criticism for being culturally insensitive and for using the locals as props. To add fuel to the fire, the couple recently came out with a statement saying that the production was in fact sponsored by Ethiopian Airlines as part of their tourism campaign. A local tour guide was said to be present at the shoot and even suggested layouts that they could do.

But my question is this: if the point of the shoot is to showcase the beauty and culture of Ethiopia, then why was the whole production centered on Billy and Coleen? Sure, their celebrity status can help boost tourism in the country, but a shoot centered on famous, privileged Eurasians is counterproductive. I don’t know about you, but looking at the photographs and the captions that came with them didn’t educate me much. I didn’t learn anything about the country, like how the 80 different ethnic groups have their own language and culture, and how their art and music are mostly influenced by their religion. Instead, I learned that Billy and Coleen are only after taking beautiful photographs at the expense of the locals.

Billy also recounted that there were kids running around the location, trying to be in the frame. Dude, I’d rather see photos of those kids playing in the place they grew up in than being forced to look like they’re in a “fashion shoot”.

It should also be noted that Metrophoto isn’t a stranger to questionable creative choices. Case in point: this one prenup shoot in Oslob, Cebu featuring whale sharks. It doesn’t take a seasoned traveller to know that this type of tourism is actually harmful to the animals. One Google search of “swimming with whale sharks in Oslob” will take you to a list of articles stating the practice’s negative impact on the animals’ living patterns. But looking at the blog post that came with that prenup shoot, the creative team might not have been aware of that.

When executing a creative campaign shoot, it all boils down to a good concept…All you need is to check one important thing from your list: execute your “why” the best way possible.

When executing a creative campaign shoot, it all boils down to a good concept. It doesn’t have to reach viral status like that Jacquemus video. All you need is to check one important thing from your list: execute your “why” the best way possible. And in this case it’s to promote tourism, and Billy, Coleen and the rest of the Metrophoto team failed to do that. Heck, this Dave the duck video is an even better tourism campaign.

Billy and Coleen may have had the approval of the locals and Ethiopian Airlines to include the locals in the shoot, but that doesn’t mean that it was automatically done in good taste. A creative director shouldn’t just be responsible for producing nice-looking images, but should also consider the message and implications of the production. Their unofficial pre-wedding photos aren’t just culturally insensitive, but are also a failure of Metrophoto as a creative agency to showcase the beauty of Ethiopia, which was Metrophoto’s task in the first place.

#art #culture #design #photography

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