I read two things this week that got me thinking. One was “Meg Surly’s” “Open Letter to Wedding Bloggers” over at Hindsight Bride, and the other was a series of lists of cliched wedding images I found when researching another project I’ll be blogging about in future. All of these bemoaned the repetition of wedding images we see so often, some of which are currently trendy, e.g. the
“‘hold hands and stand apart pose’ whilst I photograph you in front of a dilapidated wall/metal sheet/forest and exclude your heads from the image”
and Meg Surly’s
“brides sporting bird nests in their hair, or pretty, young Anthropologie-swathed bridesmaids, or meticulously stenciled miniature burlap dinosaurs holding up place cards made from the recycled issues of Rolling Stone, or weddings held in obscure meadows that can only be reached via bush pilot or a team of sled dogs”)
and some cheesily done to death (e.g. the wedding dip). Wedding photography is so aspirational; there’s so much about weddings that just HAS to be perfect and in some unfortunate cases it can represent something that never even was (e.g. emotionally speaking) or will be – the illusion of happiness rather than actual happiness. Or it tries so hard that it ends up looking hilariously cheesy rather than romantic.
For wedding photographers, there’s a constant struggle to think about ways to differentiate your work from the horde of other photographers’ work out there, and about ways to make your clients’ images individualized just for them – something that uniquely reflects their personalities rather than reproduces imagery of what wedding photography is “supposed” to like. This may be a strange thing for a wedding photographer to say, but I tend to distrust images of “perfection” – I guess it’s because I automatically sense that there’s an attempt to deceive, to sell me something I don’t necessarily want to buy. And yet, on the other hand, I love beautiful imagery as much as anyone else (and hopefully readers will think I even make some of it too). A lot of that comes down to how we define beauty, I suppose, which for me is to be found in idiosyncrasies, humour and so-called flaws.
So, what to do? How to try to subvert cliches and the unattainable “perfection” of it all? Well, I don’t know if we managed it, but when I shot with Christine & Ryan several months ago, we attempted to do that by setting out to take deliberately “bad” photos. By “bad” I don’t mean technically bad as in improperly exposed and the like, but bad in the vein of “Awkward Family Photos” in all its glorious white-trashiness and high school proms. Off to the thrift store we went to get Christine a £25 wedding dress and a £3 headband and Ryan a £40 suit. Then we nipped into Tesco to pick up a £2 bouquet of flowers that we held together with an elastic hair band. Christine chose a garishly blue 80s eyeliner and hot pink lipstick. Once we were at the studio, we chose completely plain backdrops and I composed several of the shots so that messy light stands, wires and lights remained visible. I asked them to interact in ways that suggested nervousness, goofiness, discomfort, annoyance, general awkwardness and weirdness – all emotions that are part of wedding days but which we don’t necessarily see represented in the photographs. And I guess that’s what I like about these photos in the end – lacking an illusion of perfection, Christine & Ryan just are. Awkward? Yes. Happy? That too.