Kremer/Johnson’s ‘Palm Springs Bears’: A Celebration of Community and Camaraderie Through Colorful Portraiture
Palm Springs is a common oasis for Los Angeles residents to get a respite from the hecticness of the city and sit poolside. Neil and Cory of Kremer/Johnson have visited Palm Springs many times and have always loved the culture of the area and have long admired the people who reside there. As people and artists, they’re drawn to groups that are unique and outwardly quirky and after meeting a number of men from the ‘bear’ community in Palm Springs, they knew there was a story to tell.
‘Bears’, a subset of the LGBTQ+ community, is one full of men bonded by a specific visual aesthetic that have cultivated a tight-knit group. As outsiders to this group, Kremer/Johnson knew that the portraits needed to be from the point of view of the bears themselves. Embracing their roles as observers, Neil and Cory spoke at length with each subject, so there was trust between them, allowing for the unique personalities to be captured.
Though this project is full of brightly colored and cheeky imagery that encourages a smile from its viewers, its true intent is to celebrate a community that is full of friendship, love and happiness. It's a testament to the idea that the strongest communities are those built on a foundation of acceptance, support, and genuine connection.
We spoke to Neil and Cory about these portraits and to learn more about this project and the men it celebrates.
What was the inspiration behind this project?
We've been traveling in Palm Springs for many years and have met so many people from the gay community and specifically men from the ‘bear’ community. The gay community is very prominent in the town, from boisterous gay bars to many queer-owned businesses, it’s a place that celebrates queer culture and we’ve always really loved that. The Palm Spring Bears are such a fun group of people and have a really unique sense of unity, so we wanted to celebrate them through our work.
How did you find and select subjects for the shoot?
Like many of our personal projects, we put a call of portrait subjects online and then we talked over the phone with those who replied. Through these conversations, we got a sense of their interests, hobbies, and professions. We wanted to make each portrait unique and capture who they really were as people, so we selected props and backgrounds that would represent them.
How did you land on the visual style for the portraits?
We were inspired by Kehinde Wiley, who created the Obama portraits. Our goal was to replicate that style while adding a bit more dimension. The prop selection was mostly in line with their interest, personality types or just anecdotes we learned about them. For example, one of them told us that when he was young, he would sit in front of his mom’s mirror and try on her make up and loved wearing makeup, so we brought some lipstick and mascara and let him go to town. It was a really fun day on set because each of these men were excited to be there and embraced our idea.
What was your main message or intention behind this project?
We really wanted to have a fun shoot. And while the wallpaper was a logistical nightmare, it was really great creative challenge to find the wallpaper with the right colors we wanted and to source the props. But at the end of the day, we wanted to celebrate this community of people. To share their stories, personalities and the bond they share was behind the entire project.