June 30 2010 12:00 AM

Smooch Project catches kisses on-camera



A whole lot of lovin’ was happening in Old Town last week as Perspective 2 Photo Gallery hosted an open photo shoot for the Smooch Project.

Over 90 Lansing residents dropped by the P2 gallery to show affection for spouses, children, pets or anyone else in their lives they thought deserved a smooch.

According to the gallery owner Lynne Brown, the shoot was so popular that the gallery remained open an extra hour and a half to accommodate the demand.

And all because of a picture of two sisters from St. Paul, Minn.

While studying Buddhism in Minnesota, Bonnie Fournier came across a concept that immediately clicked. Mudita, or joy, can be interpreted as the enjoyment one gets merely from witnessing someone else’s happiness. Fournier concluded that mudita was the perfect explanation for why a simple, off-center photograph she took a few years before of her twin sister kissing her on the cheek brought her so much happiness every time she saw it.

Fournier decided to start a project in which she would attempt to capture 10,000 affectionate smooches in order to share this simple joy with the world.

Four years later, Fournier has done 81 shoots in the Twin Cities area and now is hitting the road, starting her 82nd shoot here in Lansing.

Fournier decided to dedicate particular Smooch Project attention to spreading joy throughout Detroit and, on her way, stopped off in Lansing for a shoot arranged by a friend. When Brown heard about the project, she eagerly invited Fournier to P2.

“We were connected by a mutual friend/ photographer, Jane Kramer, who got the Lansing shoot started,” said Brown, “and we when we heard about the project we just had to have something so touching here.”

The Lansing shoot was completely different from those Fournier has had in Minnesota, she said.

“It was pandemonium,” she said. “We aren’t usually rock stars at the Smooch Project. I think it’s because we’ve had 81 shoots in the Twin Cities already, so it’s pretty matter-of-fact to people now. It’s not exciting anymore. But in Lansing, it was new and, because of what P2 did with making the media aware of our visit, we were rock stars. It was a dog pile, which was challenging but fun.”

The project is a perfect fit for Old Town, Brown said.

“The project is about love and community, two things that Old Town has a very strong sense of.”

Many children and dogs joined in on the Old Town shoot. Fournier sometimes struggles to make dogs relax and kiss their owners, but with some love — and a little peanut butter on the cheek — pictures of dogs and owners can be some of the most fun in a shoot, she said.

“If these Smooch shoots are laid out well, they’re open and everybody can come in and then they’re very much a spectator sport. So there’s a lot of enjoyment to that and it’s a very sweet thing, especially with the happy dogs in there,” she said.

Project Smooch has not had a completely smooth journey. In 2006, Fournier selected Smooch photos of a family of two children, a father and his girlfriend to represent the project’s show at the Minnesota State Fair. It was later discovered that the couple had since been arrested for the second-degree murder of one of the children, who died of burns from scalding water. Fournier’s display was pulled from the fair. The project garnered further media attention when a Minnesota newspaper ran another photo from Fournier’s session with the family in the paper, causing public outcry.

“This archive contains sinners and it contains saints and it contains everyone in between,” Fournier said. “And those characteristics are in every person you see. … It became a media frenzy. People were upset about the project and its joyful message with this photo.

“There was just such a contrast between what (the father)
was in jail for and what the photo was for; they were so different.
That’s hard for people to deal with. They had a reaction and it was an
emotional one, it wasn’t a thoughtful one, and it was just really hard
for everyone. It was not a good time for that family. They had just
lost a child and they were in jail and their children were in custody.
It was hard for me. I felt really badly that this child had died: She
was fine and the family was just fine when I photographed them.”

recently restored the picture to her Web archive, saying perhaps enough
time had passed that people could appreciate the picture.

From this and many other experiences, the project has greatly evolved, Fournier said.
She now has 20 volunteers, one of whom connected her with a filmmaker
who plans to make a documentary about her experience.

not a personal art project anymore,” Fournier said. “I have so many
people helping me, both as volunteers and as participants, who generate
such smiles with these pictures and I have very little to do with that.

one of us has taken gorgeous photos because the conditions were right.
A beautiful sunset, a child, a flower, all turn out well simply because
conditions were right. I create conditions that cause the sun to rise
right where I want it and that sun is people showing affection for
people they love. If I can’t make a good photo out of that, then I’m a
horrible photographer.”

hopes to soon begin her international tour with a trip to China. She
also plans to return to Michigan to place a largerfocus on Detroit.

hopes to have the pictures from her Michigan visits available on her
website’s archive within the next few months (www.thesmoochproject.com).