Photographer behind Balenciaga ad featuring children holding ‘BDSM’ teddy bears breaks silence

National Geographic photographer Gabriele Galimberti issued this statement in response to the Balenciaga Adidas campaign backlash (Getty / Gabriele Galimberti)

The photographer who shot Balenciaga’s recent controversial campaign, which featured children holding teddy bears dressed in bondage gear, has issued a statement regarding the backlash.

On Wednesday, National Geographic photographer Gabriele Galimberti addressed the criticism in an Instagram statement, which he said he felt “compelled to make” following the “hundreds of hate mails and messages I received as a result of the photos I took for the Balenciaga campaign”.

In the post, Galimberti then alleged that, although he photographed the ad, he was “not entitled” to choose the products or models featured in the campaign, “nor the combination of the same”.

“I am not in a position to comment on Balenciaga’s choices, but I must stress that I was not entitled in whatsoever manner to neither chose [sic] the products, nor the models, nor the combination of the same,” he wrote. “As a photographer, I was only and solely requested to lit the given scene, and take the shots according to my signature style.

“As usual for a commercial shooting, the direction of the campaign and the choice of the objects displayed are not in the hands of the photographer.”

The photos in question, which were displayed on Balenciaga’s website as part of its “Toy Stories” campaign but which have since been removed, featured children holding teddy bear handbags from the brand’s Paris Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2023 collection.

However, as noted by many critics, the stuffed bears appeared to be accessorised with bondage and BDSM gear, such as studded leather harnesses and collars with locks. “There is NO acceptable reason to be exposing children to BDSM,” tweeted one critic, while another called the campaign “horrifying”.

In his statement, Galimberti seemingly claimed the backlash directed at him over the campaign was misplaced, and said it “distracts from the real problem, and criminals”.

“I suspect that any person prone to paedophilia searches on the web and has unfortunately a too easy access to images completely different than mine, absolutely explicit in their awful content,” he wrote, adding: “Lynching like these are addressed against wrong targets, and distract from the real problem, and criminals.”

The photographer also took the opportunity to clarify that he has “no connection” with the Balenciaga photos in which a “Supreme Court document appears”. In addition to backlash over the use of children in the campaign, many took issue with photos from a Balenciaga shoot in which court papers used as props were identified as being from the 2008 Supreme Court case, United States v Williams, which criminalised the pandering of child pornography. The ruling reaffirmed the constitutionality of the PROTECT Act, a federal law that increased penalties for sexual exploitation and other abuse of children.

“The brand Balenciaga just did a uh…interesting…photoshoot for their new products recently which included a very purposely poorly hidden court document about ‘virtual child porn,’” one person tweeted along with the photos.

According to Galimberti, the photo in which the court document could be seen was “taken in another set by other people and and was falsely associated with my photos”.

Galimberti shared the statement a day after Balenciaga issued an apology over the photos featuring children posing with the controverisal teddy bears, and for the inclusion of the court documents.

In a statement shared to Instagram, the designer brand said: “We sincerely apologise for any offense our holiday campaign may have caused. Our plush bear bags should not have been featured with children in this campaign. We have immediately removed the campaign from all platforms.”

In a separate statement addressing the campaign featuring court documents, Balenciaga also apologised, and said it was “taking legal action against the parties responsible for creating the set and including unapproved items for our Spring ‘23 campaign photoshoot”.

“We apologise for displaying unsettling documents in our campaign,” the company said. “We take this matter very seriously and are taking legal action against the parties responsible for creating the set and including unapproved items for our Spring ‘23 campaign photoshoot.”

The Independent has contacted Balenciaga and Galimberti for comment.

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