THE SUMMERS OF LOVE
Focusing in on Photographer BRADEN SUMMERS
By Sarah Heikkinen
As a society, our perceptions of what “romance” should look like are continually shaped by how couples are depicted in the media. We’ve been trained to believe that the idyllic picture of romance involves an attractive man and woman gazing into each other’s eyes longingly while fireworks go off in the distance, celebrating their perfect, heterosexual relationship. Award-winning photographer and LGBTQ activist Braden Summers confronts this hetero-normative view of romance in his project, ALL LOVE IS EQUAL.
I spoke with the photographer about this new phenomenal series ALL LOVE IS EQUAL.
Sarah Heikkinen: What inspired you to start this project?
Braden Summers: It began while I was in Paris. I was shooting lots of romantic imagery when my boyfriend had suggested that I shoot a gay version. The resulting image of two men on a London bridge sparked the idea to shoot a whole series of these “iconic” photographs in different cultures worldwide.
SH: On your website, you say that most depictions of same-sex couples are overly sexualized, banal, and often showcase victimization. Why do you think that certain artists choose to show non-hetero-normative couples in this light?
BS: I think that when it comes to the victimization, it”s important to show the struggles of what our community goes through, but it”s almost important to have images of what the fantasy could be for our community; this project is my interpretation of what that might look like in different cultures. In terms of sexualized images, well, I”m not sure–it clearly works to get the attention of (primarily) gay men; unfortunately, I think the overabundance of sexual imagery for gay men can become isolating–it makes people with any prejudice around the LGBTQ community very uncomfortable.
Lastly, in terms of “banal” imagery, I have learned a lot about what the gay community expects from photographs that “represent” them over the last couple of weeks after reading comment boards and receiving countless emails. It is quite often that the few major companies that are venturing into incorporating same sex couples into their ads, the men and women are often actual couples–and to be quite frank the work that I”ve seen is less than inspiring. There seems to be a strange dichotomy in which it is largely accepted that beautiful straight models and actors pretending to be a couple are assumed to be and accepted as fake, but when the same imagery comes out depicting same-sex couples there is a public OUTCRY when the public finds out that some of those models illustrating the fantasy of romance for our community are not actually a couple or are not actually gay. I think this subject could be discussed at length as to why that is, and I”m not sure I have the answer, though I do have some thoughts…
SH: How do you think the general and artistic community would be affected if your project were to start translating into publications like Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar?
BS: Within a week of the project going viral, both French Elle and French Glamour had some of my images on the front page of their site. Honestly, I loved it. I think showing the work in fashion and luxury magazines is entirely appropriate given the context of the project. If Vogue and Harper”s Bazaar were to incorporate more same-sex advertising for luxury brands, I think the general public would slowly become more accustomed to seeing the idea of a great romance with same-sex couples and the world could be a more tolerant place.
SH: Why were Paris, India, Lebanon, South Africa, and America your choices for shooting locations?
BS: Quite simply my producer and I were trying to represent as wide of a range of cultures as we possibly could with the allotted time and budget that was set aside for this project. It seemed like these countries would be a good starting point and if we were able to get more funding later we would expand and travel further.
SH: So do you plan on continuing with this project? And, if so, what other locations or choices would you like to explore?
BS: Yes. At this point, the only thing holding me back from furthering the work is additional funding. I would like to travel to Mexico City, Tokyo, and other countries in South East Asia.
SH: Would you consider incorporating transsexual and other non-binary gendered couples in your photography?
BS: Absolutely. I have already spoken with some transgendered models in New York City that are interested in collaborating with me.
SH: Is there an ultimate goal you want to achieve in completing ALL LOVE IS EQUAL?
BS: Acceptance on a global scale is the far-reaching goal. The work is meant to be seen by the general public and not just a gay audience; the idea being that the images will be more relatable to the romance that is illustrated and idealized for heterosexual couples worldwide. I think an international touring exhibit of the work could really create some great press and ultimately a lot of exposure to the concept of same-sex romance.
Braden Summers is a photographer whose recent ALL LOVE IS EQUAL campaign went viral.
Written by Sarah Heikkinen
Photography by Braden Summers
Design by Mina Darius
Photographs from the ALL LOVE IS EQUAL Series, Photography by Braden Summers