When we set up OutOfOffice.com, it was clear we needed to be innovative in the way we shaped and built our brand to encompass the LGBT market. It's at the heart of everything we do in terms of ensuring everything on our site is LGBT friendly. With the help of photographer Braden Summers we've put the LGBT market at the heart of what we do in terms of imagery, marketing and product range. We spoke to Braden and our founder Darren Burn to examine the challenges and importance of getting it right.
1) What made you set about creating such imagery in the first place?
Braden: ALL LOVE IS EQUAL is a photographic series that I dreamt up while living in Paris. I moved to France to rebrand my portfolio by focusing on a modern vision of classic romance. After some time, my boyfriend suggested I shoot a gay-themed scenario and I took it as a welcomed challenge. The resulting image of two men holding hands in London inspired me to create an entire body of work illustrating idealised romance for same-sex couples from a wide variety of cultures and countries. The message I was trying to get across is that same-sex romance is nothing to fear, that it can be beautiful, and that it should be accepted (not just tolerated) worldwide.
Darren: We came across Braden's work when researching the branding for OutOfOffice.com. We were so impressed with the level of imagery he had created we immediately reached out to Braden to work together and I'm really glad we did. What he's done has brought the site alive and really showcases what we stand for and what we do - authentic travel experiences no matter who you love.
2) Hopefully one day this imagery will be integrated in mainstream travel. What is the importance of companies like OutOfOffice.com for raising awareness of LGBT issues in travel?
Braden: The reality for the LGBT community, especially for travelling couples, is that you have to do your research on what it means to be gay in the country you are visiting. By raising awareness there is the hope that more travellers will stay safe, and ideally, encourage more people to speak up against the injustice that the LGBT community is facing on a daily basis in some foreign lands.
Darren: It's at the core of everything we do. The brand we're building is all about inclusivity and Braden's imagery helps us get that message across. LGBT people don't need it to be made obvious you are an LGBT friendly brand, it's the subtle use of imagery that communicates that message effectively. When it comes to raising awareness of issues, it's the reason we've partnered with the brilliant Equaldex as well. With them we're able to provide our customers with the most up-to-date information about LGBT rights in destinations everywhere in the world.
3) What reaction have you had to the imagery? Anything negative?
Braden: The responses have been hugely varied, which I love. I have had hundreds of messages from people around the world telling me they cried or teared-up, some women expressing their concern that I am perpetuating unrealistic standards of beauty, comments from a few elderly gay gentlemen saying that they had never seen imagery they relate to until they saw this series, and straight people noting that they were not in the LGBT community but were greatly affected by the work. I suppose the type of responses were less about demographics and much more about the audience that different websites have; for example Yahoo!'s audience was far less tolerant than those of The Huffington Post and Buzzfeed.
Darren: We're so pleased to be using Braden's imagery. As I mentioned it really augments our brand and it's so eye-catching that it really makes our website come alive. We've had lots of great feedback from customers who understand what we're trying to achieve and from the industry too who have praised us for being brave enough to use it. I don't think there's anything brave about it though. I think travel brands that don't are missing out and running scared.
4) Do you think mainstream companies are perhaps using imagery inauthentically rather than out of genuine desire to attract the LGBT market?
Braden: I am sure there is a bit of this, but I ask "Does that matter?". Of course, to promote acceptance should come from an authentic place, but the power of seeing this type of imagery on a regular basis can have a great impact on the general public. The more visibility our community receives (especially in a romantic context), the more "normal" we become in the eyes of our peers.
Darren: I totally agree with Braden. Any imagery is better than no imagery, but it definitely needs to come from a place of authenticity otherwise you risk alienating the customer.
5) Braden, tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into photography?
Braden: I hail from Tolland, Connecticut and currently live in San Francisco, California. I have lived and travelled all over the world building up my skills as a photographer for the last decade. My goal is to inspire others with my unique take on what beauty is and how it affects the way in which we view the world.
I have always been an artist, I grew up immersed in my drawing and painting. Shortly before college I took a photography class in high school and, no pun intended, it just sort of "clicked" for me. After spending a year at Boston University studying general education courses, I decided to transfer to the Academy of Art University in San Francisco to finish my college years as a photography major.
6) What are the biggest challenges you think LGBT people face when they travel?
Braden: The biggest challenge for me as a gay western traveller, is reframing my mindset and comfort level in expressing myself. Living in a city that is incredibly tolerant makes it all too easy to forget that my sexuality is problematic or even illegal elsewhere. I have to keep myself in check (in certain parts of the world) to maintain a certain composure and level of secrecy that I otherwise wouldn't worry about.
Darren: Thankfully it's getting better but gay holidays are best undertaken armed with knowledge. Not all destinations are welcoming, but there are also destinations where it's illegal to be gay that you can travel to safely. It's about knowing the law of the land but also using common sense when it comes to situations in a destination. We're always happy to offer advice where possible.
7) What can LGBT travellers do to highlight their need for equal treatment in countries where the law doesn't extend to them yet?
Braden: It is incredibly important to find creative ways to bring exposure to the struggle that LGBT folks live on a daily basis in certain countries. Find ways to improve the lives and rights of those that are living in these foreign lands and invariably it will be safer for us as tourists to travel to these locations.
Darren: I agree with Braden. I don't think boycotts work and I think it simply serves to oppress the local LGBT people and community. I don't expect travellers to necessarily make a noise when they visit a destination but by opening your eyes to other cultures and destinations you are broadening your own mind and helping to frame how you can help if you choose to do so when supporting charities that are fighting for LGBT rights worldwide.
8) What plans do you have for the future?
Braden: My plans for the future include a call-to-action campaign for a non-profit organisation, continuing my series of video portraits, and continuing the hustle.,
Darren: We'll certainly be working with Braden in the future and helping to showcase his work. OutOfOffice.com is just getting started and we'll be adding new inspiration to our site every week. There's nothing we can't do - a brave claim I know, but something we aspire to. If you have something special in mind then drop us a line, we hope to be able to be of assistance and if we can't then we'll point you in the right direction.