“What… and I cannot stress this enough… the f**k,” read a caption on the “Hey Ladies” Instagram page on Thursday.
The colorful language was posted beneath a wedding photo in which a couple is seen kissing in front of what fans of the “Handmaid’s Tale” television series will recognize as the “hanging wall.” The newlyweds are surrounded by “handmaids” — women in red gowns and white bonnets.
To say social media users found the image to be in poor taste would be an understatement. The photo rapidly circulated across Instagram and Twitter, leaving many scratching their heads as to what would prompt anyone to glorify the oppressive, dystopian Gilead ― the setting for Margaret Atwood’s terrifying novel and the hit Hulu show ― and, more specifically, the site in the story where people are executed for being queer; disobeying the fanatical religious patriarchal rulers; or trying to escape.
Shawn Van Daele, who, along with his husband, owns the Toronto-based photography company responsible for the image, told HuffPost that they knew exactly what they were doing when they created the photo.
“Anyone who would put out an image like this without understanding what it implies has bigger problems than upset people on social media,” he said in an email on Thursday. “I knew when creating the image that it would [possibly] upset people but that’s sort of the point. To wake people up.”
Van Daele said he and his husband “didn’t expect the photo to go viral” but were pleased that it had, saying that “hopefully it will wake people up to how they too contribute to the oppression and hatred they are rightfully worked up over.”
According to Van Daele, he and his husband and the newlyweds are all “fans of the TV show (and obviously, first, the book).”
He said that they had previously done photo shoots at Cambridge Mill, a restaurant on the river in Cambridge, Ontario, where the show has also filmed, and had “no trepidation about shooting there.” He stressed that as a gay married couple, the image is deeply personal for him and husband Clint Russell because it emphasizes the oppression faced by minority groups.
“This image was created and put out by a pair of ‘gender traitors’ who are no strangers to many of the subplots of oppression, violence and inequality that run through Margaret’s brilliant work,” he said, referencing the persecution of people who deviate from traditional gender norms in Gilead.
Taking a photo in front of the “hanging wall” was the groom’s idea, Van Daele said. The “handmaids” were not bridal party participants; Van Daele photoshopped them in. (“It seemed the natural thing to do since we were there,” he added. “I’m certain any ‘creative’ or photographer would have the exact same thoughts.”)
When HuffPost first reached out to Van Daele on Thursday, he said they thought about taking down the photos but worried that “all the hatred” would “trickle over” to pictures of other couples on the photographers’ Instagram page, and didn’t want it to seem like Van Daele and Russell were “hiding from anything.”
However, later on Thursday, the picture had been deleted from the account “at the request of the couple,” Van Daele said, “because they’re being harassed – which is an absolute shame.”
The couple “are rightfully overwhelmed and distraught right now, despite previously loving the photo, since it’s from one of their favourite shows. Having the world try and ruin their wedding day and paint them out to be horrible people (there are people of every race, colour & sexual orientation in their wedding party) is a little disheartening,” he said.
The bride and groom did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.