In 2013, hundreds of thousands of French citizens marched through the streets of Paris to protest a new law legalizing same-sex marriage. It was a shocking — and heartbreaking — spectacle for many lesbian, gay, and bisexual French people, including artist Olivier Ciappa.
“I heard some of them saying on TV the worst clichés, such as two gay men with babies would have orgies in front of their kids,” Ciappa said. After talking with some of the protestors, he realized that many of them didn’t know any gay people, and were protesting more out of a fear of the unknown than anything else. As a visual artist, Ciappa believed that images of gay love might be able to counteract this knee-jerk homophobia in a way that reasoned political arguments might not.
“Real couples and gay families are so rare in the media,” Ciappa commented. “There are more than before, but unfortunately it is just a drop of water compared to the hundreds of heterosexual couples we see every day.”
So Ciappa recruited gay couples and families to sit for intimate, black-and-white portraits that he’s been showing around the world, in his native France as well as in Canada, Peru, Slovakia, Germany, and Lebanon. He also invited heterosexual celebrities — like actor Eva Longoria and singer Lara Fabian — to pose as “imaginary couples” (which is where the project got its title).
He hopes the celebrity photos, when paired with matching images of real-life gay couples, will “help homophobic people who love these celebrities to open their minds,” said Ciappa over email. In every country he visits, he’s recruiting new sitters to pose for the series, expanding its reach with images of local celebrities and LGB people.
In December, a crowd attacked “Imaginary Couples” when the show was on public display in Toulouse, France, tearing down some photos and writing homophobic slurs atop others. Ciappa, undeterred, quickly printed and put up larger versions of the photos. When those were stolen a week later, he made even larger versions, and convinced the local authorities to provide around-the-clock protection.
“I left the destroyed pictures on the gates, [then] reprinted the same picture twice as big,” he said, to show love and hate side by side.
“Imaginary Couples” has not yet made it to the U.S., but next summer, Ciappa hopes to bring the exhibition to Los Angeles.
“We are hoping to continue to promote this movement and attach some big names in the future to showcase ‘Imaginary Couples’ all over the United States,” he said.
David Baïot and Gregory Questel, the stars of French TV show Plus Belle La Vie.
French actors Rebecca Hampton and Nadège Beausson-Diagne.
French Olympic swimmers Florent Manaudou and Frédérick Bousquet.
Eva Longoria and singer Lara Fabian.
Longoria and Fabian.
Thérèse Clerc and Monique Issele, feminist activists.
Olivier Ciappa and his ex-boyfriend, Guillaume Mouraret, with whom he lived for 11 years.
Director of Sicario, Denis Villeneuve, and director of Dallas Buyers Club, Jean-Marc Vallee.