Blink and they're gone. A Fight for the preservation of cultural heritage by JWT

Bas Korsten, Global Creative Lead JWT, and Senthil Kumar, CCO JWT India, talked with us about Jimmy Nelson's campaign which portrays the last indigenous cultures in the world

por Maud Largeaud , AdForum

  • How the relationships worked between Jimmy Nelson, the team in the Netherlands and the team in India? 

Bas Korsten, Global Creative Lead, JWT:

It’s probably an unusual situation, an ad agency having a photographer as a client (rather than the other way round!), but it’s a very fruitful working relationship so far. And this is just the start, as there is much more to come in 2019.

Jimmy contacted me after seeing The Next Rembrandt and after witnessing the global discussion it started on creativity and the future. This campaign was launched in 2016, but the discussion is on-going. In fact since April 2016, there is hardly a week where we don’t get a call or email from a TV company, journalist, writer or academic wants to talk to us about The Next Rembrandt. Jimmy wanted to start a global discussion as well, but this time on the preservation of cultural heritage and the importance of respecting indigenous culture.

So we started talking. When my team and I started presenting our first ideas for the wider campaign, which will launch in early 2019, his fearlessness was refreshing.

I lead JWT’s Global Futures Council, and therefore I presented next year’s concept to my wider team of creative leaders in NYC. That’s where Senthil saw the ideas and of course Jimmy’s work. This got Senthil very excited, and he suggested we join forces to create an initial awareness campaign to illustrate Jimmy’s global announcement, made last week, where he issued an international warning that the world is at risk of losing its global cultural heritage by squandering the cultural identities of the last indigenous peoples. This announcement, which has been picked up by national newspapers globally, is underpinned with the film titled Blink. And they’re gone – made by Senthil Kumar and JWT India, in collaboration with us in Amsterdam and Jimmy Nelson. I’m really happy that Senthil and I can contribute to this unique project. 


  • Tell us about your role in the creative of this work

Senthil Kumar, Chief Creative Officer, JWT India:

My role is purely creative in everything that I do. In this case it was all about championing the idea and bringing the idea to life as the writer and film director of Blink. And they’re gone. I worked closely with Bas Korsten, our Global Creative Lead and put together a crack team of our best talent that could work on over a 100,000 images and craft this film within 90 days. Editors, Musicians, Researchers and Post Visual Designers worked for months to finish the film. It was an honour to work with the legendary Jimmy Nelson on this all important cause and campaign to help preserve cultural identity. It was life changing to travel far and wide and deep into indigenous earth, through Jimmy’s eyes.


  • What was the biggest challenge you faced during the process?

Senthil Kumar, Chief Creative Officer, JWT India:

Most probably the biggest challenge was selecting the images. We had to see everything that Jimmy had shot over the last 30 years on the subject of indigenous tribes and almost every image screamed out to be included. So the editorial line up took us nearly a month to arrive at the 36 different tribes and the final 1500+ selected images.

The offline edit of stitching a sequence of images to connect the dots and tell the amazing story of Jimmy’s journeys into the indigenous earth, took us another 30 days followed by another 30 days of online editing, music editing and sound design. Unlike normal films this film was composed and crafted over several rounds of back and forth between video editing and audio editing until the rhythm of the images moved to the beat of the sound and vice versa. So it took us 90 days of video and audio editing from start to finish.

We started by creating a wall of images with every single tribe and then aimed to stitch the sequences together to connect all the dots to build an engaging narrative and tell the story.

We had three editors on the job led by Priyank the offline editor and Kevin the midfielder followed by Dev the online editor who developed the chosen still images which were longer than 12 frames in length into moving images or stunning Cinemagraphs.

We started by laying out the different tribes in different sections but then it was not working up to a strong narrative. We redesigned the edit into starting from the roots of the indigenous tribes, their holy lands and habitats, their family trees on indigenous earth, both literally and photographically, then moved to their waterholes and rivers and oceans and celebrated their cultural evolution and diverse journeys.

We featured the gypsy travelling tribes next that moved from one place to another and jumped continents and geographies like jungles to islands to deserts to sand to snow to hills and caves… Finally building up from extreme wides to mids and close ups of the individuals in each tribe, arriving at the final countdown of the mind blowing portraits of indigenous culture and finishing off with the epic blink across multiple faces and man pairs of indigenous eyes. BLINK. AND THEY ARE GONE.

There were over a hundred thousand images from the Indigenous journeys of Jimmy Nelson. We did not leave out even a single indigenous tribe. We included all the tribal habitats, family trees, waterholes and journeys. But we could not include all the individual portraits of every tribe since that section was already almost a thousand images long in the edit.


  • What's a "behind the scenes" story that you only know and you could share with us?

Bas Korsten, Global Creative Lead, JWT:

We’re trying to push the boundaries, like Jimmy does with his photography, so the first concepts for next year’s campaign had to be stopped for legal reasons. However we don’t drop a project just because of a set-back. We keep going… The Next Rembrandt was killed and resurrected 13 times I believe, so it pays off to be persistent!


  • Where do you see this campaign going in the future, more specifically in 2019?

Bas Korsten, Global Creative Lead, JWT:

Last week we kicked off the campaign with Jimmy’s global warning about our diminishing global cultural heritage. The message is resonating internationally and creating lots of discussion – plus Senthil’s film has already had quite an incredible amount of interaction with over a million people engaging with it and commenting via Jimmy Nelson’s Facebook and Instagram.

But this is just the start. In the first quarter of 2019, we will be launch a wider initiative and a disruptive technology campaign to help Jimmy Nelson’s mission preserve global cultural heritage. We think this is a very important message, a timely one, and another opportunity to match tech with creativity in an innovative way. So keep your eyes on Jimmy Nelson next year!