Authenticity in Wedding Photography
Documentary Wedding Photographer
My father passed away just before Christmas 2016. The sense of loss and the immediate desire to cling onto his memory meant we, his three children, began a scramble for reminders of him. We reminisced over stories, swept through his belongs (he was particularly adept at hoarding kitchen appliances and glass jars) and spent days digging out old photos. We found ancient, leatherette, self-adhesive albums; floating prints wedged in old boxes, digital files on memory cards and up in the cloud. We came across my sister’s wedding album from 5 years ago. An amazing day. She had two wedding photographers who did a great job of doing what they were tasked to do. The photos were creative in composition, correct in their use of light, artistic in their editing, and all key events were covered without missing a beat. In short, they provided a beautiful showcase for wonderful occasion and amongst the many photos were some of my dad.
My cousin Huong was at the wedding, happily snapping away in between the festivities. She grabbed a shot of our dads together, brothers in arms and slightly worse for wear. It was a snapshot purely to capture what was in front of her, without an agenda for creating art, or making something significant, but it also turns out to be our favourite picture of him. It’s aesthetic was raw, it’s representation was true.
Those amongst you who are familiar with art history may have heard of the ‘snapshot aesthetic’. It’s a photographic movement from the early 60’s, borne out of the desire to document life impulsively, loosely, spontaneously, giving the banal as much importance as the distinguished. The movement rebelled against romanticism – often beautified, glorified interpretations of aesthetics and emotions – to simply document ‘what is’.
“There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment.” – Robert Frank
We wedding photographers are always anticipating. We’re solving problems before they occur, constantly calculating light and scenarios, and squeezing out as much creativity out of ourselves as possible. Could we be thinking so far ahead that we can miss what’s in front of us? Our agendas and our desire to create art (and with that the desire to win plaudits and awards from our peers) can blindside us from the moments that have potential to be most precious. They may not be the typical wedding photo, but the authenticity of the scene and it’s unguarded moment gives the image a timeless appeal which becomes more poignant as time goes by, even if it’s characteristics aren’t immediately apparent to our clients.
As a documentary wedding photographer – that is, somebody who privileged to be a witness at someone’s special day, attended by people being the very best of themselves – I’m mindful of creating something meaningful as well as a body of work that’s beautiful. Of course they’re not mutually exclusive from each other, and the very best wedding photojournalists straddle that line perfectly.
One of my greatest photographic heroes, Robert Frank once said: “There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment. This kind of photography is realism. But realism is not enough – there has to be vision, and the two together can make a good photograph.” Vision is why people hire professional photographers. As the age old adage goes – we make pictures, not take them. Client’s don’t want photographs that their wedding guests can take, but with the same breath we have to respect that we’re also tasked with creating an timeless heirloom, preserving memories to last a lifetime.
Is that what he meant by ‘the humanity of the moment’?