Pucker Up

Photographer brings her labor of love to Valley

Jessica and Eric show their love to Oscar Tosh and Ari Ezra at a recent Smooch! Shoot event (photo courtesy of Bonnie Fournier)
Jessica and Eric show their love to Oscar Tosh and Ari Ezra at a recent Smooch! Shoot event (photo courtesy of Bonnie Fournier)

LAKE ELMO — Twin Cities-based photographer Bonnie Fournier embarked on a personal art project seven years ago to capture 10,000 smooches from across the world. Her journey reaches Lake Elmo Feb. 13.

Fournier’s project began by accident, after a candid shot of her twin sister smooching her “just made (her) heart go through the roof.” Fournier figured if that happened to her, it could happen for other people as well. So she invited friends and neighbors to her home to see if they had the same reaction. They did and encouraged her to continue with the project.

“A lot of it is so much fun I can’t imagine doing anything else. I’ve had a bunch of photographers come up to me and tell me that I’m just taking the same damn picture over and over again but that is so not true for me,” Fournier said. “One of my friends described it best when they called it a visual haiku. It’s a simple statement with multiple meanings.”

Fournier sets up Smooch! Shoots at various places, taking photos of people kissing each other on the cheek. The photos have evolved to shots Fournier likes to call smooch sandwiches, with two people on the ends and others in the middle, and have expanded to include pets, although pets won’t be allowed at the Lake Elmo Inn shoot.

The project goal is to promote love, healing and making the world a better place, according to Fournier. That’s what inspired John Schiltz of the Lake Elmo Inn to bring a Smooch! Shoot to his restaurant.

“She came to the Lake Elmo rotary awhile ago to share a little bit about her project. I met with her after the meeting because I thought, ‘What a  great idea’,” Schiltz said. “The people in her photos all have big smiles and genuine smiles. She called me a short time ago and asked if I would like to do a shoot. I thought that would be a great idea for Valentine’s week. With all the love in the air and being busier than normal, I figured she could get a lot of photos.”

Fournier has made February Smooch! Project month with various dates for Smooch! shoots to collect photos. The Lake Elmo Inn shoot is her 130th shoot. She does all of her shoots indoors to protect her equipment. The event is 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday on the Lake Elmo Inn veranda.

Fournier loves the shoots because it’s a casual spectacle. Those attending should bring someone they love, and after signing a release form, Fournier takes their photos. The events are family-friendly and Fournier has photographed people from all walks of life.

“Some of those pictures she really seems to catch them in an act of surprise that they were being kissed and she reaches all facets of the human race. It’s not all suits and ties, and there are nice group shots too.” Schiltz said.

Fournier loves the casual aspect of a Smooch! Shoot. Anyone is welcome to come in as they are and show their love to the world, she added.

“A Smooch! Shoot is a spectator sport. People enjoy watching people participate in the shoot.” Fournier said. “Lights are going to be flashing all day and I’ve had lots of people tell me in the past that they came to the location because of the flashing lights since it looked like lightning in the room which was a fun thing to think about.”
Although participation in the shoot is free, Fournier’s hopes to use this month’s shoots as fundraising events for her project’s first international trip to Bangladesh in March.

“Most people think they’re doing  a fun thing with someone they love and become part of the art project while others purchase photos from the gallery’s for unlimited use.” Fournier said.

The Lake Elmo Inn is also creating a new dessert for two to help the project. It’s called A “Smooch! Sandwich” made of two moist red velvet heart-shaped cakes, with a center layer of cream cheese frosting, drizzled with dark chocolate and topped with a white chocolate arrow of love. The dessert is available from Feb 13-20, with 50 percent of the proceeds going directly to The Smooch! Project.