Once again, we dig into the archives and bring the past into the present…
It’s been several years since I last photographed a wedding but I still look back on my wedding photography days fondly. I considered it an honor and a privilege to be such a big part of one of the most important days in a couple’s life and to use my art to create their first family heirloom.
In an earlier post, I mentioned how early in my career I worked very hard to make work that looked like what every other “pro” was making. I felt that if I was to be as successful as they were, I needed to understand how they made pictures and replicate them as best I could.
It made sense at the time, but looking back, that strategy would only be useful if I were creating another commodity, like widgets, off an assembly line. Good for widgets, but bad for art which is what I felt I needed to be making. Needless to say, it was something of a struggle in the beginning. And not so much a struggle to make work that clients loved, but to create work that I loved.
So what to do…
In college, I had a professor in a creative writing class who talked all the time about the importance of the “central emotional structure” of every story. Without it, you didn’t have much of a story. He was right. And the more I thought about my wedding photography, the more I realized that’s what was missing in my work.
While overall, my work was decent, I wasn’t creating a narrative for each bride and groom as unique as they were, but creating one narrative that every bride and groom had to fit. In other words, the pictures were interchangeable. The only difference from one wedding to another were the faces. No two stories are ever alike, so why should your pictures all look alike?
This is OK if you’re a factory, but not so good if what you want to do is tell a story as unique as each couple you meet. I may go a little deeper into this idea in another post, but for now I think these three images illustrate how my approach had changed.
First, I began to add B&W images to each coverage. I felt that color pictures told the color of the day, but B&W pictures expressed the feeling of the day. This may not seem so radical today, but back then it was almost unheard of.
“Do they still make B&W film?”
“My parents wedding pictures were in B&W. Why would I want that?”
“No real professional photographer would make B&W pictures. Not these days. I think we should get some of our money back.”
I’m not making any of these up. Clients actually said these things. And more. And in the beginning, it was confounding to me. Couldn’t they see the beauty of it? (BTW, the couple from the last quote did not get money back!)
Eventually, I found my audience and things took off. Which then, I felt, gave me licence to explore many other techniques to enhance the ways I could tell a story. I began using different types of film, like high ISO B&W film because I loved the grain; infra-red film because I loved the ethereal look and feel; high speed color film because I loved the subdued color palette.
I spent less time posing and more time documenting. I enhanced motion by “dragging the shutter” as in the first two images here. I used different angles looking down, looking up, tilting the camera to create dynamism and add impact.
In short, I used every tool I had available to tell THE STORY!
Because at the end of the day, it’s all about the story…