Confessions of a Reluctant Wedding Photographer

Karen and Zsolti, Cluj-Napoca, Romania. 31.12.2014

Last weekend, I was a maid of honour for the second time in my life. And I was delighted. I love working under pressure, so being wingman to the bride is my cuppa tea. The first time, I was maid of honour for my sister Karis, when tornadoes swept through Chattanooga 4 days before her wedding and the guys spent Wednesday clearing branches and fallen trees from the reception location. I set up shop in a cafe with wi-fi contacting the old-school DJs who hadn’t printed the song-list before the power went out, as well as charging the family’s cell phones because our house (and most of the city) had no electricity. The DJs didn’t have a generator and we didn’t know if the power would be back at the reception in time for the wedding. I told Karis it would be grand; if we ended up blasting a playlist from someone’s pickup truck speakers, we would dance in the field and the party would be Un-for-gettabe. Thankfully, the power came back in time. I discovered that I am a calm person in a crisis and that tornadoes don’t faze me as long as I don’t have to see them up close.

I’ve lived in Europe for the last 7 years and I’m convinced this is the best thing that could have happened for my friendships and my sanity. I would have gone a bit mad if I had to go to multiple weddings every year, which seems to be the story of many of my Stateside friends. I have been spared the weddings of acquaintances and the temptation of becoming a full-time wedding photographer.

If I am involved in your wedding, you are most likely

a) a family member,
b) a best friend (it’s a tier, not a title)
c) an exception to the rule.

I have a secret package I offer to siblings and best friends: a quiet hour with your love, me, and a couple of rolls of medium format film. I only do this for people I already know very well. It’s a chance for them to connect and be alone together in the middle of an intense day. It’s rare for a couple to have a moment alone on their wedding day and I love creating a space for that moment. And that’s about all I will say about my philosophy with photography and weddings because I hate the jargon photographers use when talking about weddings. “Working with Johnny and Laura was so special. I don’t say this every time, but I could just tell there was something so joyful and unique about this couple and it was such an honour for me to be a small part of that.” Etc, etc.

I’ll tell you a secret: I hate wedding photography.

To be more exact, the business of wedding photography. I’m a big fan of love and milestones and taking the wonderfully terrifying leap of committing one’s life to another, ’til death do us part. But wedding photography, I don’t trust wedding photography or most wedding photographers for that matter.

I get that people want something to remember their wedding day, I really do. But somewhere along the line, brides became a business, weddings became a status symbol, and having a glossy hipster Vogue spread to commemorate your wedding day became the norm. It wouldn’t bother me so much if people wanted their movie-star moment for their wedding album at home. But now it’s normal to post albums on facebook of engagement and wedding shots full of image after image of the two of them. Who is it really for?

Once, a friend of mine took pictures of me and my boyfriend. Man, we looked good, really good. Laughing and flirting and like we could have been in a J. Crew catalogue. But our relationship was a mess and the pictures weren’t true. Did my own messed up relationship make me jaded toward engagement and wedding photography as a whole? Maybe. But I hate when things are staged in general, and I much prefer an imperfect picture that gives a glimpse of a story that’s real, even if it’s uglier than a directed/posed shot would be.

Sometimes a shot does need to be directed. The tilt of the head or angle of the shoulders can improve a portrait. But the perfect angle is no substitute for emotion or any of the invisible dynamics of a relationship. And it’s those dynamics that are so interesting and mysterious — that make every relationship different from the next.

Another secret: I love a good wedding.

I love the gathering of people from different seasons of the couple’s life. I love getting to hear stories about the bride and groom from people I would never have met apart from their wedding. Learning about different aspects of their stories and personalities and how they influenced friends and families along the way. Reminiscing about all of the factors that brought them to this particular day and celebrating the chapter ahead. Honouring not only the love, but also the lives of the couple — not because of what they’ve accomplished, but because of who they are.

On that note, I will shut up and post portraits of some of my favourite people from the last few years. Because love is worth celebrating.

Laurel & Jonathan. Castledaly Manor, Athlone, Ireland. 6 March 2013

Karen and Zsolti. Cluj-Napoca, Romania. 31 December 2014.

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