Braden Summers is a Connecticut born photographer whose career has taken him far beyond the small East Coast state. Spending his entire youth there, he moved to the neighboring state of Massachusetts when it came time for college to study at Boston University. He studied general education during his first year at BU, though he was always interest in the arts. While his major was not arts related, he took any opportunity he could find to explore the art of photography. He applied and was accepted into a grant program at The Academy of Art University in San Francisco for the Summer of 2004. He fell in love with the city and the photography program, and ended up transferring there to finish up his degree at The Academy.
Braden spent 3 years in San Francisco, but for his senior year he wanted to study abroad. The options at The Academy were limited, but they had an amazing online program which he ended up using to his advantage. He signed up for all online classes and decided to travel while attending classes virtually. Braden then spent 6 months between several different cities like Auckland and Sydney. Upon his arrival back, he had to complete one internship in order to graduate, which he moved to Los Angeles to do. After his one year in LA, he moved to New York City for 3 1/2 years, flew over to spend some time in Paris, and then finally landed back in his beloved San Francisco 4 years ago. He now splits his time between San Francisco and New York City.
Braden’s many travels no doubt have an effect on his work, as he has gotten to see so many beautiful corners of the world. The heart of all of his work is trying to evoke a sense of beauty, to get his audience to think of lifestyles different than their own as beautiful. This stems from a sense of wanting to feel equality amongst all kinds of people. Though his work after college was heavily based on compositing, he never felt like that was the end all be all for him as an artist. He started to aim to create something more natural, ethereal, with a hyper realistic look without the need to composite. It wasn’t until he spent that time living in Paris that he was able to break free from his compositing ways and rebranded himself as a luxury tourism and hospitality photographer.
Much of this imagery made in Paris was portraying heterosexual romance, so the man Braden was dating at the time challenged him to create one image in the same realm, but with a same sex couple. He took on the challenge and made an image of two men holding hands in London. Little did Braden know, this image would be the first spark for a huge personal project to come. The image was posted to his Facebook, and while the number of shares went up, so did the amount of positive praise. This got Braden thinking that there’s something about the high production value of the image that people are responding to, because they haven’t seen it before. Most imagery related to same sex couples in the media is heavily sexualized, or you see the victimization. This inspired Braden to show same sex couples all around the world, photographing them in a beautiful light that would hopefully change people’s personal views of the topic. The project, entitled “All Love Is Equal”, ended up going viral, and resonated with thousands of people. People in the LGBTQ community had rarely seen themselves represented in this manner until his project.
From a production and creative standpoint, Braden didn’t use strictly real couples or LGBTQ members. To create the level of work he wanted to create and be seen by the world, beauty was one of the primary factors, as is also true in selling anything. He wanted the images to be as beautiful as possible, which included working with subjects who were very used to and comfortable with being in front of the camera, and who evoked a natural beauty. Though Braden realized there may be issue with not using real LGBTQ couples for the work, he points out that we never question advertisements where couples are portrayed, because we almost always assume they are not a real couple. The real relationship between the subjects in his project is irrelevant, and it is rather a question of love and romance. He wanted to bring that quality and level of beauty to these images of same sex couples that we way too often see portrayed by strictly straight couples. Many of the cities he traveled to to shoot the project, were dangerous places for people to be openly gay or bisexual, so some of the people he asked to be a part of the project turned him down out of fear for their safety. And while this project was tackled from an advertising mindset, it is seen as almost exclusively a personal project to Braden. There had to be something about his subjects and the environments he shot them in that inspired him.
Another aim of the project was to inspire mainstream commercial advertising to incorporate same sex couples into their normal ad campaigns. Not just for the benefit for the LGBTQ community to be recognized, but also for the general public at large. Marriott International reached out to Braden after seeing “All Love Is Equal” and wanted him to join them in creating a campaigned called “Love Travels”. The campaign was to be almost the same as his “All Love Is Equal” project, but to instead include real couples and real families exclusively, and shot within a Marriott Location. For the unveiling of the campaign in May/June of 2014, they wrapped 8 buildings around D.C. with the final billboard that ranged from 4 to 10 stories tall. Some of the images up for display were just blocks away from the Capitol. There was also a launch party coinciding with the unveiling where Matthew Shepard’s parents spoke, and subjects of the campaigns were brought to celebrate. The campaign continued to be shot for more than 2 years following the original launch.
Braden felt strongly about his message, and never wavered from his confidence believing in something and watching the world respond and resonate (or not) with the project. People having a reaction to the work— positive or negative— is what lead to his work getting noticed in the first place. Beauty is a uniform way to relate to people, and this project helped prove that. Since the campaign has come out, Braden has noticed more same sex imagery on a much bigger basis than ever before. Perhaps society is on the path to embracing different types of romance, and being more accepting of lives different than their own.