When We Had a Sense of Humor

When this ad was first brought to my attention, it was suggested that it might be a fake. It is easy to forget how uptight we have gotten about viewing the human body these days, but with careful analysis, I think it is clear that something like this would not have been that unusual in 1974 Germany.

Elefanten Schuhe Ad (1974)

It is worth noting some of the motivations and circumstances associated with this ad. First of all, this image was meant to convey humor as in “look at how cute and silly these children are!” For those who can understand the text, Elefanten Shoes is advertising the fact that their children’s shoes come in three widths, just like the girls—wide, medium and narrow.

The other thing is that although an ad like this would not have been so out-of-place at that time, still it would not have been used to target the general market. Clearly, this ad appeared in a publication targeting the countercultural demographic with money to spend.

There are certain advantages to using bare bodies to advertise this product. Any clothing might have distracted from the shoes which the company wished to emphasize and there is also a timelessness that would have been lost if the girls were wearing clothing of a particular era and nationality. Clothing would also have obscured the noticeably different figures of the girls as would a calves-down only view which we might see in a more mainstream ad.

So, who out there is going to make a fuss about this ad? And what does it say about our capacity for humor?

Maiden Voyages: May 2016

A Premium Postcard Collection: It is with great excitement that I announce that my friend Stuart—who has perhaps the world’s biggest collection of Edwardian postcards—has finally consented to share his collection with Pigtails readers.  It will take time to sort through and scan thousands of postcards but as they become available, I will share them here.  For starters, some new Reutlinger images have come to light and that post has been updated.  I think I can speak for all of us when I say that this generosity is greatly appreciated.

Guilt by Association: On May 9th, photographer Chris Madaio is scheduled to stand trial for charges that he violated the conditions of his parole after serving 4 years in prison for possession of child pornography (see more details on his story here).  Although Madaio does not contest the original charges, the Morgan County, Alabama authorities seem determined to find any excuse to continue to punish him.  The new charges are based on images found on a computer and some USB drives found in a storage unit with his name on it.  The unit belonged to two women, the sister and a friend of Samuel Hyde.  Hyde was a convicted sex offender whom Madaio knew for a short time while attending the same court-ordered program.  The women allowed Hyde personal use of the unit, but neither they nor Hyde have been indicted.  To complicate things further, Hyde made a statement against Madaio before dying under mysterious circumstances.  It would be difficult to speculate on the veracity of all the details of the case, but it is an excellent illustration of how the justice system prefers to grandstand on prosecutions rather than rehabilitate and reintegrate those who have been convicted.  Although Madaio has a court-appointed attorney, he is hopeful that a more trusted family lawyer will be allowed to serve as co-counsel.

No News is Bad News: An item came across my desk about a controversy regarding a GAP Kids clothing line and the portrayal of Black people.  An ad campaign featuring a performing troupe called Le PeTiT CiRqUe (more on them in a future post) included one image with a bigger girl resting her arm on a shorter Black girl.  You can read a little about it here.  With all the special interest groups involved in this issue, many people are getting on the bandwagon and making a lot of noise.  Whatever the circumstances, I would like to humbly suggest that those sincerely interested in the cause of racial justice not waste their energy on something that will accomplish nothing while giving free publicity to a major clothing company.  On the other hand, it is nice that Le PeTiT CiRqUe got a little press.

Gap Kids Ad Campaign (2016)

Gap Kids Ad Campaign (2016)

“Moral Welfare” on the Set: One of our readers, who is child modeling agent, has shared items of interest regarding the changing rules and conditions of child models and actors. For example, in the past, outtakes from films shot in the days before the internet would never see the light of day and if there was some inadvertent nudity, it was of little concern. But today, a lot of behind-the-scenes footage gets leaked and so the rules in Hollywood have become a lot stricter.  An online article shares an interesting anecdote regarding the opening scene of Disney’s Pollyanna and informs readers that now, under California law, it is studio teachers who are responsible for the moral welfare of children in their charge.

To Top or Not to Top: As many readers of this site are aware, in many countries outside the United States, it is routine for undeveloped younger girls to swim in public without bikini tops.  A mother shares an interesting story about her 7-year-old daughter’s recent trip to Spain.  It offers a little insight about a child’s body image and her ability to adapt to different cultural norms.  The editorial concludes with the mother seeking this advice: now that the girl is used to swimming without a top, how can she be persuaded to go back?

Auction News: A friend passed on this small item about Sotheby’s auctioning off a few Sally Mann photographs on May 19th.  A lot of big-name photographers are featured and the Mann images are numbered 58–61.  Speculation in art has continued to inflate prices.

Random Images: The Girl of Steel

Keith Ward - US Steel Advertisement (Undated)

Keith Ward – US Steel Advertisement (undated)

Like most companies in the mid-Twentieth Century, U.S. Steel relied on full page advertising to promote the value of their products. To display their uses in the home, U.S. Steel employed the talent of artist Keith Ward to create a happy home scene. Keith Ward (1906–2000) provided many illustrations for magazines such as Child’s Life, Boy’s Life and other magazines of the day. Ward was the illustrator for the ‘Dick and Jane’ series of books and his illustrations were used in advertising for companies such as Elmer’s Glue, Phillips 66 and of course U.S. Steel. The first U.S. Steel ad pictured above was printed in the Ladies’ Home Journal and featured a young girl, freshly bathed, being dried off by her mother in a bathroom filled with useful steel products. Interesting to note is the strategically held puppy in the girl’s hands. Much like the Avon ad in an earlier post, this image would never find a home in a magazine in today’s society.

Random Images: Avon’s Calling


(Artist Unknown) – Avon Ad (1963)

Before the age of digital advertising, magazines were the primary medium for companies to promote their products. Large and colorful full-page spreads featuring artwork and photographs primarily targeted the stay-at-home housewife. Everything from cleaning products to laundry detergent to children’s goods were peddled in numerous family magazines. Founded in 1886, Avon is a globally known direct sales company of beauty and personal care products. This full page ad from Avon is dated 1963 and was used to promote their line of children’s toys. Fresh from her bath, this bare girl sits upon a towel while she examines a Humpty Dumpty toy. The embodiment of Avon’s purity and cleanliness image, the girl’s hair is held up with a daisy chain of stars while an array of Avon’s other toys sits around her. In today’s culture this ad would have never made it to print. Much like the Coppertone girl, she would have been covered up because of some unfounded fear to controversy. Ads such as this one only showcased the innocence, purity and unspoiled beauty of childhood.

Random Images: Scott’s Emulsion

Although many physicians swore by the benefits of cod-liver oil as a routine supplement, there was always the long-standing problem of its nauseating taste and convincing children to take it.  Alfred B. Scott and his partner Samuel W. Bowne began using some primitive chemistry to produce their famous, more palatable formula.

Scott's Emulsion of Pure Cod Liver Oil with Hypophosphites of Lime Soda Advertisement (c1890)

Scott’s Emulsion of Pure Cod Liver Oil with Hypophosphites of Lime Soda Advertisement (c1890)

In addition to the use of children, some appeal to patriotism was applied here as well.

From the Bettmann Archive

Random Images: J.C. Ayer & Co.

Until photography became the visual mainstay of advertising, illustrators (mostly anonymous) were used and since companies often wanted an idyllic image to be associated with their product, children would often be portrayed.  So the first few groups of images are advertising illustrations.

James Cook Ayer (1818–1878) was perhaps the most successful promoter of patent medicines of his age. His first concoction in 1843 was his Cherry Pectoral.  He was more interested in selling than practicing medicine and expanded into other business ventures with this profits.  In 1854, his brother Frederick joined the enterprise.

J.C. Ayer & Co. - Ayer's Cherry Pectoral Advertisement

(Artist Unknown) – Ayer’s Cherry Pectoral Advertisement (c1870)

J.C. Ayer & Co. - Ayer's Pills, the Little Favorites Advertisement

(Artist Unknown) – Ayer’s Pills, the Little Favorites Advertisement (c1870)

From the Bettmann Archive

Random Images: Oliviero Toscani

Oliviero Toscani (born 1942) is an Italian photographer known for designing controversial advertising campaigns for Italian brand Benetton from 1982 to 2000.  With a photoreporter father, it makes sense that Toscani would have an intimate understanding of the media and politics.  His campaigns have dealt with such issues as AIDS, racial issues, war, religion and capital punishment—all in the guise of selling clothes.

Oliviero Toscani - Benetton ad

Oliviero Toscani – Benetton ad

After leaving Benetton, his campaigns continued with men participating in homosexual behavior in 2005 and another against anorexia showing an emaciated woman in 2007,

In one of his latest campaigns, he takes on violence against women, for the magazine Donna Moderna.  The idea is ostensibly to sensitize Italians to this problem.  Boldly written words are placed under a picture of a naked boy (“executioner”) and girl (“victim”). According to Toscani, the point is that these values of how men treat women starts at an early age.  Donna Moderna even has a website where women who have suffered violence can tell their stories anonymously and ask for advice.

Oliviero Toscani - Violencia de genero 1

Oliviero Toscani – Violencia de genero 1

On the surface, this seems like a noble campaign with a courageous artist and concerned company willing to shock people to get the job done.  However, the reality is that Oliviero is a master propagandist helping his client grandstand in the spotlight.  And sensitizing people to the problem only makes the perpetrators more defensive and secretive.  The real solution to the problem is not sexy and would probably be of no interest to a big media company.  But for anyone interested, an excellent example of something that does work is the work of Jackson Katz and others that really gets under the skin of the problem to help turn it around.

Oliviero’s interest in communication technology is clear and, in collaboration with Regione Toscana, a new research facility for modern communication called ‘La Sterpaia’ was established in 2003.

Random Images: Michel Simonidy

Michel Simonidy (1870–1933) was a painter, draftsman, designer and illustrator.  He was born in Romania and was a portraitist there before moving to Paris.  His paintings were in the style of Art Nouveau.  He produced artwork for a number of posters including this one.

Michel Simonidy - Poster for La Bourboule (1895)

Michel Simonidy – Poster for La Bourboule (1895)