San Francisco photographer Braden Summers has been making the media rounds lately, thanks to his gorgeous series, "All Love is Equal." I really love his concept – he takes the common visual language of advertising, magazine, and movie culture – that swept-off-your-feet look of being madly in love that we're well accustomed to viewing – and shifts the focus to gay and lesbian couples. And he went around the globe doing this. After raising the funds through a successful Kickstarter campaign, he photographed glamorous men and women cuddling, kissing, dancing, and proposing in stunning locations from London and Paris to Beirut, Mumbai, Johannesburg, Rio de Janeiro, NY, LA, and San Francisco. The resulting series would equally be at home in the pages of Vogue or on the walls of an art gallery.
Now that he's back home, I asked Braden, our neighbor over in Duboce Triangle, to tell me a little more about "All Love is Equal."
What inspired this series?
I came up with the idea for the project when I was living in Paris. I was shooting lots of romantic imagery when my boyfriend 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.
Are the people in your photos models? Real couples?
Some are real couples, some are models. The point of the project was not to document reality. Those images exist, photographers have covered and will continue to document the current state of gay rights world wide. "All Love is Equal" is about looking at the iconic images of romance in advertising and movie stills and realizing that very few depict same-gender loving couples.
Were any of the photos set in San Francisco?
Yes, the two women in very floral outfits laying on a blanket set against some trees was shot in Mt. Davidson in San Francisco.
Do any of the shots have particularly good stories behind them?
Absolutely! They were all incredibly challenging to produce. I guess one of the most interesting shoots for me was with the men on the elephant in India. It took so much effort to get all of the elements in place. My producer Greg Jaroszewski and I were only in Mumbai for five days and we were trying to produce this image and the lesbian wedding. While we were shooting (during monsoon season) we were praying that it wouldn’t rain. I was on the second story of a building in construction praying that I wouldn't trip and fall, there amassed a crowd of onlookers from the street to see what was going on and to see why two men were cuddling on top of an elephant. I was trying to tell my producer to direct the fruit vendors, while telling the elephant trainer to move the elephant about 30 degrees to the right. The models were happy to help, but noticeably uncomfortable, and the bed on top of the elephant nearly slid off a couple of times. It was chaos. Greg really was a star and made everything go seamlessly, but the whole time I felt this sense of wonder for my world around me – and also wondering, "is this real?" On top of that, I am really happy with the final shot and so ecstatic that all of the pieces somehow came together in the end.
What kind of reactions did you get from people passing by as you took these photos, if any?
My producer and I were very cautious to shoot in very remote areas where we wouldn't be bothered, or we would hire security guards in locations where we thought we might get harassed. All in all we didn't have too much trouble – though the security guards in Rio did have to fight off a few hecklers who were less interested in the gay nature of the shoot and more interested in the simple fact that there were pretty women in dresses getting lots of attention.
Is there any photographer or series that inspired you in creating the vibe for "All Love is Equal?"
I looked at a lot of Richard Avedon's series of work when he was in Paris. His location work was incredibly romantic and seemed to evoke an iconic image of what romance should look like – that was what I was trying to do on a "global scale." There is also an image of Marion Cotillard for Dior shot by Steven Klein called "Lady Blue Shanghai" that I think is one of the most romantic things I have ever seen – that was a big inspiration for me.
What are you looking to do next with the series?
If I was able to secure funds to continue shooting, I would be very interested in creating a book. I also would like to exhibit the work – ideally on a global scale in a way where the images could travel from city center to city center and gather crowds from the general public and not just gallery goers.
All photos courtesy of Braden Summers