Patrik Giardino and Gus Kenworthy Proudly Advance on The Olympics
It was only four years ago that LGBTQ+ athletes were skipping out on the Sochi Winter Olympics because of Russia’s bizarre anti-gay laws. Some out athletes didn’t want their celebrity to attract visitors or outside dollars to the country, so they opted out, while others – like skier Gus Kenworthy – used the opportunity to show the world the inhumanity of those laws. It was a tense time, that put a lot of athletes, countries, and committees in difficult positions. But now, on the eve of the PyeongChang Olympics, it’s a different situation. Patrik Giardino just caught up with Gus Kenworthy to shoot a campaign for Head & Shoulders, but what started out as a hair care product commercial turned into so much more. “He was super nice, he was so easy to work with and very open and happy,” Patrik says about working and collaborating with Kenworthy. “He wanted to do everything, to make the shoot different.” That creative dynamic meant they were able to do a lot more than glamour shots of great hair.
With the Olympics around the corner, and Procter & Gamble (Head & Shoulders’ parent company) a sponsor of the games, Kenworthy and Patrik knew that a lot of eyes were going to land on the photographs and ad, so they took on the task knowing the stakes. “There was a little more pressure because a lot more people are going to scrutinize the shots, it’s not like just another athlete going up to promote some product,” Patrik explains. Kenworthy’s status as an out athlete means that he’s a hero to more than just other skiers, he represents the future of competition, where every athlete can compete as themselves with nothing hidden away. Patrik wanted to bring that into the shoot. “We had a focus on something else, so it means a lot more than just going up there and shooting someone for the PR or the commercial,” he says.
For Kenworthy to be able to wear official uniforms and Olympic insignias, each image was going to face approval from the Olympic committee, and amazingly they approved everything. Even the images with Kenworthy posing with the Rainbow Flag, a flag that celebrates diversity and is seen as the herald of the gay community. “Luckily the Olympic Committee approved everything... It went all the way up to the top,” Patrik says. “He’s in the official Olympic uniform, and he’s allowed to represent the gay flag and everything we wanted to do, so I think in that sense it was amazing… It’s way more personal than just shooting another athlete, it feels like so much more.” The response has been overwhelmingly positive, and as images from the shoot continue to be released as the games approach, the campaign becomes more than a story of great hair: it’s the story of a more inclusive future where everyone has the opportunity compete as their true selves.