The Coppertone Girl

Updated: May 25, 2020

The story behind the photo

The Coppertone Girl

Biscayne Blvd, Miami

Shot - March, 2019

Composite image

I was searching for interesting Miami stuff to shoot in my new home city. During my research I came across the futuristic Miami Modern (MiMo) style of architecture, a quintessentially Miami movement reflecting the glamour, fun, and material excess of the postwar period.

My journey into the internet brought up so many amazing examples of MiMo hidden in plain sight, many of them on Biscayne Boulevard. While out exploring I came across the Coppertone sign.

This is one of my favorite images for a few reasons.

The clean light. I was worried that I had arrived a bit late for this one. By the time I had dropped the kids at school, picked up my gear from the studio, parked, found the right angle and set up, it was around 9.30am.

Thankfully the March sun isn’t as high as it would be at the same time a couple of months later, and it doesn’t have that hammering intensity.

That bike! I often take nearly 100 images to make each composite. On this morning I had just set up when the guy on the vintage Harley came thundering down the road. I managed to get a few frames. With his open face helmet, the white wall tyres on his bike - he makes the photo.

Nostalgia. The smell transports me back in time, instantly. Slathering on Coppertone suntan lotion when I was a kid, by the pool or at the beach in Hong Kong. Never using anything more than factor 8. It was all about tanning, not blocking. The iconic image of the little girl and the dog are imprinted on my memory. That’s the power of advertising.

Some history

The original Coppertone logo was the profile of a Native American chief.

In 1953 an ad agency in Florida came up with the concept of the little girl and the pup. Artist Joyce Ballantyne Brand re-drew the little girl in 1959, using her daughter as the model, after the original artwork was destroyed in a fire.

Joyce Brand was also known for her pin-up paintings.

Sometime around 1965, a three year old Jodie Foster made her acting debut as the Coppertone girl in a television commercial.

Did you know that the original Coppertone sunscreen was literally cooked up in Coconut Grove, here in Miami, not far from where I am sitting writing this?

It was developed in 1944 for soldiers by Benjamin Green, an airman turned pharmacist. He cooked it up on his stove at home and tested it on his own head.

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