The photographers behind a Handmaid’s Tale-themed wedding photo are defending the image amid a flood of criticism, claiming that the “oppression” exhibited in the backlash is exactly what the show is fighting against.
The image features newlyweds Kendra and Torsten kissing in front of a wall in Mill Race Park in Ontario, Canada, surrounded on either side by Photoshopped red-robed, bonnet-wearing handmaids featured prominently in the Hulu series, which is based on the dystopian Margaret Atwood novel of the same name.
The photo was uploaded to social media by wedding photographers Shawn Van Daele and Russell Clint, a married couple, days after the Saturday wedding.
“Praise be! Kendra & Torsten are married!” the post read. “If there’s any @handmaidsonhulu fans out there, you’ll know most of it filmed in Cambridge! So, as fans of the show, it only seemed fitting for there to be some Handmaids in K&T’s wedding photos along the ‘hanging wall’ in Mill Race Park!”
In The Handmaid’s Tale, the hanging wall is the public spot where bodies of those who have committed crimes are hung.
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The image quickly faced backlash, with many calling it tone-deaf and a bizarre choice for a couple celebrating a happy marriage.
“I have a tattoo from this book. I like it as much as, if not more than, most people. How can ANYONE read The Handmaid’s Tale and come away thinking that this is a thing that would be cute and romantic for their wedding? Are we sure her name isn’t Serena Joy?” one Twitter user wrote.
“Wow, this is deeply disturbing,” wrote a Facebook user. “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.”
In a lengthy statement to PEOPLE, photographer Van Daele rebuked critics who had attacked the image “without first learning” the meaning behind it, and said that he, Clint, and the couple in the photo were all “huge” fans of the show and book.
“I knew when creating the image that it would possibly upset people, but that’s sort of the point…to WAKE PEOPLE UP,” he wrote. “We didn’t expect the photo to go viral, but we are SOOO HAPPY IT HAS because hopefully it will wake people up to how they too contribute to the oppression and hatred that they’re rightfully worked up over.”
Van Daele explained that the image wasn’t part of a larger photoshoot, but was just one photo in a series of thousands that was meant simply as a nod to the fact that they were shooting on location.
“It was intended mostly as a keepsake for them,” he wrote. “We knew we are all good, compassionate people who don’t feel the need to defend ourselves from the conclusions everyone is jumping to. We absolutely understand the gravity of the show’s message, which is why we love the show so much — as terrifyingly real as it is becoming more and more every day.”
His statement also said that the couple in the photo, who have not gone public with their last names, are “overwhelmed and distraught” by the criticism, “despite previously loving the photo.”
“Everyone loves a good witch hunt…apparently today we are their witch,” the statement read. “We’d love to see you out in the streets participating in women’s marches, supporting equal rights for everyone regardless of their sexual orientation, and so many other important causes, instead of sitting here scrolling through Instagram, knee-jerking your way through comments.”