You know, when I imagine a dream wedding, visions of female subjugation, rape, and forced childbearing don’t dance through my head (nor do barns or mason jars, but I digress). But clearly, my vision of romance is lacking a certain institutionally patriarchal touch—an element a Canadian couple known simply as “Kendra and Torsten” made sure to include in their Cambridge, Ontario nuptials, captured by wedding photographers Van Daele and Russell in a now-deleted social media post.
Who knew that The Handmaid’s Tale shot in Cambridge? Or that the onscreen location known as “the Hanging Wall” would make for a romantic shot—with a handful of handmaids in place of bridesmaids, of course. The last time we took note of the Hanging Wall, it looked like this (in case you’re wondering, that red stuff is supposed to be blood):
But though this wedding picture—and the show that inspired it—were shot in Canada, looking at them instantly evoked the reported (yet disputed) 52 to 53 percent of white women who voted against their own interests (read: for Donald Trump) in the 2016 United States presidential election. Specifically, it evoked the dystopian future this administration has repeatedly threatened to catapult us toward—and the oppressive past our country still won’t reckon with. Considering that—and seriously, while fictional, this is pretty much on par with the “plantation wedding” trend—social media was equally disturbed by the imagery.
After understandable confusion and backlash online, Van Daele and Russell issued a relatively nonsensical statement basically blaming viewers for misinterpreting their intent—apparently, the shot isn’t glorifying the oppressive dystopia that The Handmaid’s Tale inhabits, but the heroism of the handmaids! How did we miss this vital twist? Clearly we’re the real racists—oh, sorry, wrong post.
If the point was to get us talking, it worked; white people do the darnedest things! While we think this shit is some basic white nonsense, what it really drives home is that for some folks, no amount of dysfunction—or dystopia—will warn them off of an obviously bad idea. But, whatever; congratulations, Kendra and Torsten! Praise be.
Updated: Friday, 10/4/19 at 3:55 p.m., ET: Photographer Shawn Van Daele of Van Daele and Russell Photography gave an interview to Vulture, further explaining the psychology, methodology and inspiration behind the controversial shoot, which he said was “bit of a team effort.”
“The couple are actually photographed on site, the rest is Photoshop,” Van Daele told Vulture via email. “As Clint [Russell] & myself are actually a gay married couple (in Canada thankfully), the image and entire show [touch] on the oppression faced by the gay community, women, and many other minority groups. It’s deeply personal, and a shame people are attacking without first learning...If the Handmaid’s Tale profile posted it themselves, it would be an entirely different reaction from everyone. The behind-the-scenes pics Handmaid’s always [posts] are received with so much love, while they’re out there having fun while filming it.”
“This is one photo of thousands that are not Handmaid’s related. It was a nod to the show as they were married where it was filmed,” Van Daele later added. “The couple as well as ourselves are HUGE fans of the TV show and, obviously, first, the book. Anyone who would put out an image like this without understanding what it implies has bigger problems than upset people on social media. I knew when creating the image that it would possibly upset people, but that’s sort of the point … to WAKE PEOPLE UP.”
“Everyone loves a good witch hunt,” he concluded. “Apparently today we are their witch.”
Well, in that case, may the Lord open.