It wasn’t until a winter afternoon a few years ago, when we paid my Nan a visit and stayed longer than usual, that my vision as a wedding photographer changed forever.
I had gone into wedding photography a couple of years before with the desire to take beautiful natural photographs of people and their day and this was my main goal. Up until that point I had never been a fan of the bride & groom staged photos from my parents’ generation weddings and, like many other people, placed all of the “old photos”, be they wedding ones or just people/family portraits into a “traditional” category I wanted to stay away from. I thought that if I don’t intervene at all as a photographer I am bound to get beautiful natural photographs. After all, the majority clients were asking for photos where the photographer kept to the shadows. I was noticing this approach didn’t quite provide the results I had anticipated but I couldn’t put my finger on why this wasn’t working as expected.
That day everything changed for me. My Nan brought out an envelope full of photos and we started going through them, one by one. They were in black and white, printed traditionally in the darkroom. There was one of her when she was about 6 years old wearing her favourite dress, one together with her sister from when they were about 12 years old, sat on the grass in their garden, one from her wedding day, and a couple with each child, as they were born, a few with all of them together, at various stages through their lives. I also remember one with her family, her grandparents and great-grandmother in front of their house, from 1942, then several portraits of her brother who was writing back from the battlefront during the war, which he also signed on the back, telling them how much he missed them. Yes, all curated and not the most “natural” you could argue, but yet all so true, marking real moments from their lives, moments of great meaning. The photos had a clear purpose and nothing was distracting from it. The date and the names of the people had been handwritten in ink on the back, that now looked beautifully dated. They were pieces of history that I would have not been able to see and experience had it not been for these prints. In that “boring” picture of everyone in front of the house I saw my great-great-great grandparents house and what they all looked like and what the clothes were like back then for the different generations, in other photos I saw parts of their village, in others the traditional dress for young girls back then, and simply how photos were used as postcards to write home from the war, to share news about your reality, in words and portraits.
83 years of life into about 50 photos. All printed, all handy for browsing through, in this envelope. All meaningful. I was 29 and up until that point I probably had a few hundreds of my own, with friends and family, in . jpeg format on a computer, or two, sitting on USBs, somewhere… Not only I could not share any with her there and then, but I realised I wouldn’t know where to find them exactly, all these far-too-many photos I took at random times in my life without a specific meaning, running away from the “traditional” way.
I have not left the idea of taking photos that look natural and that are a true representation of the people and the moment – I love this very dearly and always will. But I understood that sometimes, as a photographer, when you know a photo will come out better for it, it doesn’t hurt to prepare / create the scene, eliminate distractions, then let it all unfold naturally, just as much as lots of other times you just need to go with the flow. I also gained an appreciation for the meaning behind photos, for quality over quantity, for what are the real highlight moments of a wedding day instead of snapping away all day for no good reason, for making time for photos with the family and the dear ones, whether they are a school friend or a grandparent, and encouraging couples to do so. I also gained an appreciation for prints and albums. To have and to hold. To browse and to remember the people and the feelings. For cold winter nights when friends come over. Or in 50 year’s time, for your grand children.
For your wedding, I wish you good company, a location that you feel at home in, tasty food and great rhythms on the dance floor. And a good photographer you resonate with. ‘Cause that matters 🙂
Some fun facts about me: