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What We Learned This Week: "Handmaid's Tale" Wedding Photo Sets Off Furor

By David Schonauer   Friday October 11, 2019


A wedding photograph has set off online fireworks.

And in doing so, it proved one of two axioms, or perhaps both: Everyone’s a critic, and there’s no accounting for taste.

The furor started after Canadian photographer Shawn Van Daele of Van Daele & Russell Photography posted the picture of newlyweds Kendra and Torsten kissing in front of a wall in Cambridge, Ontario (at top). On either side of the couple are red-cloaked handmaids featured in the Hulu series Handmaid’s Tale, which is based on the seminal novel by Margaret Atwood set in the dystopia of Gilead, where fertile women known as handmaids are enslaved and forced to bear children for a ruling elite.

In fact, the image of the couple was shot at Cambridge Mill — the actual location of the series’ notorious “hanging wall,” where resisters to the status quo are punished (severely) for their deeds. The handmaids were Photoshopped in later.

The idea of a Handmaid’s Tale-theme wedding photo rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. “Thousands of social media users quickly commented on and shared the image with question marks, jokes and concern,” reported Time.

“The image quickly faced backlash, with many calling it tone-deaf and a bizarre choice for a couple celebrating a happy marriage,”  noted People magazine, which included this comment from one Facebook users: “Wow, this is deeply disturbing. I love the show, but this photo is truly puke-worthy.” Added another, “I’ve never in my life seen someone so incredibly dense to have missed such a huge point. And to make the premier photo at ‘the wall’ no less. Just absolutely stunned right now.”

Van Daele defended the image, noting that the newlyweds were “HUGE fans” of the TV series and of Atwood’s novel, adding that the groom wanted the picture taken at the hanging wall location. Van Daele told PetaPixel that he knew the image would possibly upset people. (He noted at Vulture that he's no stranger to online fame. A series he created featuring seriously ill children in fantasy surroundings also went viral.) But controversy, he said, was “sort of the point” of the wedding photo. He told NBC that he hoped the photo would “wake people up to how they too contribute to the oppression and hatred that they’re rightfully worked up over.”

“What’s sad,” he responded on Facebook, “is that everyone is REACTING exactly as expected — just like in Gilead — and missing the opportunity to think for themselves, to educate themselves and become ENGAGED ACTIVISTS instead of simply keyboard warriors.”

Here are some of the other photo stories we spotlighted this week:
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1. Trauma Lingers After Mass Shooting In Las Vegas

The aftermath of a mass shooting has become all too familiar: Funerals take place, obituaries are written, heroes are highlighted, hashtags are created, motives are questioned, guns and mental health are debated. That pattern rang true after a gunman opened fire at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, 2017, leaving 58 people dead and hundreds more injured, noted NPR, which featured a haunting look at the fallout of the shooting by Las Vegas photographer Bridget Bennett.


2. A Surreal Twist On Opulent Fashion

Photographer Natalie Lennard, better known as Miss Aniela, offers an unconventional twist on editorial fashion photos, noted My Modern Met. The images in her ongoing series “Surreal Fashion” look at first glance like opulent takes on high fashion. But on closer inspection they reveal their quirky side: One, titled “She Shoal,” features a gown made from a school of 20,000 CGI silverside fish. It was created in 40-feet-deep water in the Cayman Islands with deep-sea diver and model Coral Tomascik.


3. Revisiting a Murder Case That Transfixed Iceland

It started with the disappearance of two men in 1974. Ultimately, it led to a problematic police investigation that resulted in confessions of murder from a group of six young people. Along the way, we noted, the case touched on issues as diverse as Iceland's folkloric elves and 20th-century fears of drugs and counterculture. British photographer Jack Latham explored Iceland's infamous "Gudmundor and Geirfinnur" case in his 2016 book Sugar Paper Theories. Now, after new developments in the case, a revised edition of the book is being published.


4. Round-The-Clock Darkness In Alaska

When photographer Mark Mahaney traveled to Utqiagvik, Alaska, last January, he found the temperature in the US’s northernmost city to be about the same as New York City — around 17 degrees Fahrenheit. But that was the high. It can drop to minus 28 during polar night, a period of uninterrupted darkness. “Landing, it looked like we were dropping down onto the moon,” he told The New Yorker, which featured his images of life in round-the-clock night there. Climate-change, Mahaney found, was on everyone’s minds.


5. Discovering a New Life and Vision in Valparaiso, Chile

Eleonore Simon moved to Valparaiso, Chile, in 2016. "I needed a fresh start and decided to spend time with my family who had settled in Chile the same year. I didn't speak a word of Spanish and I was only planning on spending a few weeks there before returning to New York," she told PPD. Instead, she ended up staying. Inspired by others who have photographed "The Jewel of the Pacific" — Sergio Larrain, Anders Petersen and Alberto Garcia-Alix — she set about capturing the city in black-and-white images. Her work was named a winner of the Latin American Fotografia 7  competition.

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