Well, since we’re already way back in the Way Back machine, let’s look at a couple of color images. I would hate to leave the impression the world of my youth only existed in black & white. Not so.
That would be my parents…
The image at the top, of Karen & Gary, was the first wedding I ever photographed, and the first time I ever intentionally created an image for someone other than myself. I was still in college at the time. Karen was a co-worker and well aware that I rarely went anywhere without a camera.
As both she and Gary were also students, they had little money and so enlisted the help of family and friends to plan their wedding. Karen and her sisters made all the food. The reception was at a state park covered shelter.
The bottom image, of Sandy & Dave, was the first wedding I ever photographed as a working “pro”. We’ll leave the definition of “Pro” for another time, but it was the first time I was actually paid money to photograph for someone. Livin’ the dream, baby! Ain’t life grand?
Well, sort of…
At both weddings I was accompanied by my best friend and frequent co-conspirator, Joe. We also go waaay back. And I mean, Waaaaaaay back. He’s also one of the most creative people I know. When I look at some of my early work, during the period we spent a lot of time working together, I think it’s some of the work I like the best. But more on that later…
Karen & Gary gave us money for film, a bottle of Jack Daniels and all the food at the reception we could eat and stuff in our bags to take home. Sandy & Dave paid us $350, proofs and album included. Not a princely sum, but certainly a long way from all you can eat and steal.
At Karen & Gary’s wedding, we owned 2 camera bodies and 3 lenses between us. No flash, no tripod, no accessories, no nothing. By the time we got to Sandy & Dave, our first real wedding booking some three years later, we still didn’t have an extra camera, but we did have a tripod, a flash and 2 more lenses. Definitely moving up in the world.
We never actually set out to be wedding photographers, but for some reason when you told someone you did photography, the first thing they wanted to know was if you shot weddings. At least that’s how it seemed in those days. Eventually enough people asked and we said yes. Why turn down money?
Like any newcomer, I operated under the belief that to compete you had to work the same way every other professional did. If they’re successful doing things a certain way, why should I be any different? So I spent a lot of time looking at other photographers work (not so easy before the internet!) and learning as much as I could about other studios and how they operated. And while I got better at it, and the business grew, it never felt right.
In truth, while I had no idea what I was doing at Karen & Gary’s wedding, I like the images a lot more. The images from Sandy & Dave’s wedding were set up and lit just like everyone would have expected. Hands in this position, the flowers here, and the dress laid out just so. And while all that’s good, I get little emotional satisfaction from many of them. There’s no story there. Or at least not a story told very well. While there are many images that told me what the day looked like, there was very little that told me what the day FELT like.
I think these two images illustrate the differences well. In the first image we see the bride and groom leaving the church. A hand throws rice in the lower left which leads our eye directly to the bride and groom. As they duck for cover, they appear to be laughing. The camera is on a slight angle, accentuating the lines of the steps and railing, making it a little more dynamic. And with the slight blur of the rice and the couple, a sense of movement. We see people in the background laughing. A boy at the top of the steps is staring. We wonder what he might be thinking. We are engaged with the action. We’ve been drawn into the story. Don’t we want to know more?
In the second image, we have a portrait of the bride and groom. They’re posed like every other bride and groom you’ve ever seen. They’re kissing. Probably because I asked them to. The image is sharp and will lit. So what? I don’t know the story. I have no idea what it really felt like that day. At least not from this photo. But that’s how it was done in those days.
In the first image, I’ve broken just about every rule there was for proper wedding photography. Arm cut off? Horrors! What’s with the diagonal? Why so crooked? Why so far away? And it’s blurry! My God! Put down the camera! What an amateur!
Yes, yes I was. And I liked what I was doing better that way.
It took me a long time to realize that I didn’t need to make images like everyone else. I needed to make the images I wanted to make. If I made them for myself first, for the way I saw the world, I would like them more and so would everyone else. And that changed everything.
I still occasionally make images intentionally for other people., but these days, I do it mostly for myself.
And I like it better that way…