I wasn’t so much interested in wedding photography as I was in wedding anthropology
December 4, 2012 9:39 AM   Subscribe

Remains of the Day. "Wedding photographers tend to assume we have the best clients—impervious to things like divorce and disease. But despite the unending blog posts by photographers about the “honor” of shooting so-and-so’s nuptials, we know about as much about our clients as they do about us... Which is another way of saying not much."
posted by muddgirl (31 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
There's more interesting writing (and photos of course) on the author's web site.
posted by Jahaza at 9:45 AM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Like, trying not to get fixer on Jack Nicholson.
posted by Jahaza at 9:45 AM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Single page / reader / kindle / instapaper / etc version.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:47 AM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wedding photographers tend to assume we have the best clients—impervious to things like divorce and disease

That is really a bizarre thing to say. The more I think about that sentence, the stranger it seems. Is this level of delusion typical of the whole industry?
posted by thelonius at 9:52 AM on December 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

Well, that was depressing.
posted by boo_radley at 9:56 AM on December 4, 2012

Is this level of delusion typical of the whole industry?

In The Three Stooges's greatest film - The Brideless Groom - the boys are trying to get Shemp married to his voice pupil so he can claim an inheritance. As the Justice of the Peace approaches the start of the ceremony, he says dully with a weary expression, "Hold hands, you lovebirds."

I've always imagined that wedding photographers must be equally cynical about the enterprise.
posted by Egg Shen at 9:57 AM on December 4, 2012

A number of my friends are pro photographers, which of course means wedding photographers. They are neither more nor less cynical about weddings than anyone else I've met.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:00 AM on December 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

I think his point was that wedding photographers aren't generally sitting there thinking, "I bet THIS couple is going to get divorced!" or "I bet THIS couple is going to be torn apart by personal illness!" All they know of these couples is one day in their lives.

It's not that they idealize weddings - it's that they do the same thing that we all do. Assume statistics only apply to other people.
posted by muddgirl at 10:04 AM on December 4, 2012 [8 favorites]

I wish the writing were better on this one; it's an interesting subject.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:05 AM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Photographers: also capable of elaborate fantasies about strangers that often have no basis in reality.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:20 AM on December 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

I briefly moonlit at wedding receptions, working mostly in the kitchen (and occasionally helping with clean-up the morning after) of a church meeting hall that did pretty decent business in weddings during the summer, and there were no illusions on the part of the other kitchen staff with regards to the chances of couples in general making it work in the long run. When I did clean-up and sometimes salvaged reception table favors like candy or votive candles, I might run across these things some months later and wonder if the bloom was off the rose yet.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:30 AM on December 4, 2012

I can assure you that wedding photographers aren't thinking about any of this shit at all. They are thinking about getting the two hundred required shots, or rather, not pissing off the bride's mother.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:36 AM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I occasionally shoot weddings. I can say that the chemistry between the couple, the family and the wedding party is an important part of the shoot but usually people's discomfort with having their photo taken (usually men more than women) obscures all insight into the relationships. Really, I'm just focused on shooting the day.

Having been married myself, I can say definitively that it shines through when the wedding is organized. It's much easier to shoot a wedding where people have their shit together. The #1 piece of advice I give to people (because it's counter-intuitive) is that if they want a casual, care-free experience on the wedding day you want to organize the crap out of it. The most casual, fun weddings are like that because they've been very carefully thought through. If you want a panicked disaster that's full of stress, don't organize.
posted by jimmythefish at 10:50 AM on December 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

I photographed and videotaped weddings for years. My only generalization of weddings in general is this: Second (and third, fourth, etc) weddings are always more fun.

Other than that, my recall is basically limited to how good the food was.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 10:57 AM on December 4, 2012

My primary memory of my wedding photographer is my fiancée and I asking him about the different types of weddings and couples he saw. He showed us sample albums from around the studio and then mentioned "sometimes I never even hear back after the wedding. People pay but then never come get their albums."

I remember that particularly in the context of an email I received from my freshly divorced ex four and a half years later in which she said that she was going to dig up the name of our wedding photographer and pick up our album if he hadn't thrown it out yet.

The nice thing about life is that when you look at it backwards just about everything includes foreshadowing.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:30 AM on December 4, 2012 [6 favorites]

Warning: if you've lost a spouse, and are in a foul mood today, it's not recommended to read this article.
posted by mrbill at 11:46 AM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've always imagined that wedding photographers must be equally cynical about the enterprise.

I worked in the industry for a year or two. I found the cynicism of photographers tended to vary inversely with their quality: the best photographers were really nice and blended into the walls, while the bottom-end cheapies acted like they were playing with a dollhouse and were only too happy to dish about what losers their clients were.

There's a special circle of hell for bad wedding photographers: the Devil tells them they're only in Purgatory and then keeps leading them to new locations and varying the people in the frame for "just a couple more shots" while people party happily just within earshot.
posted by yerfatma at 12:00 PM on December 4, 2012 [6 favorites]

On a lark, a girl that I was dating had ordained herself as a priest in the Universal Life Church, then ordained me as well, and we had mentioned that to a few engaged friends as a sort of fun fact -- telling them "hey, we're ordained priests, wouldn't it be funny if we married you guys?" "yeah, wouldn't it be funny if?"

Then, one of the couples wrote back to us and asked, "actually, no, seriously, do you want to marry us?"

So, we officiated their wedding. Then friends who had attended that ceremony later asked me to officiate their wedding, then other friends ... you get the picture. And in time, I had developed this gig where if friends wanted to, they could ask me to be their officiant, and I'd sit down with them and have a nice dinner and talk about love, marriage and ritual and what they wanted to have in their ceremony. My only conditions were that you had to be friends and you still had to write your own vows, but I'd do as much or as little as you'd want.

This was also around the time in one's twenties and thirties when all of one's friends were getting married, so I was attending weddings alternately as an officiant, a DJ or just a guest, and turning into a bit of a wedding nerd, picking up neat components of ritual from Hindu or Buddhist or secular ceremonies and bringing it up as suggestions for couples that I was working with.

Someone else asked me, at one point, why my friends kept asking me to officiate their weddings, and it made me think about how while we were agnostics and atheists, we had our own community that filled the role that churches and congregations may have for others. That for all that separates us by faith and language, we all seem to hold universal this sacrament of love and this celebration of commitment, and that was always something that I enjoyed revelling in.

A year or so ago, two friends of mine ... good, old friends, asked me to marry them and had asked for, essentially, a full package. Convocation, readings, audience involvement, ring exchange, vows -- the works. I poured a ton of effort and emotion into that wedding (and also because I was going through a breakup of an important longterm relationship, I was perhaps projecting a lot of hope into their union as well). I remember freaking out while trying to memorize my lines the night before and wondering if priests (like, real priests) ever went back to their offices after a ceremony and said to themselves, "well, that could've gone better" and I envied them for the luxury of perhaps not always knowing their couples and being able to walk away. In the end, though, it was a wonderful, beautiful ceremony and one of my fondest memories.

And then they separated eight months later due to irreconcilable differences. Differences that they alluded to as stuff that they were working on during the engagement, but we elided over due to the crazy momentum and headiness of an impending wedding. And again, I wondered if priests ever looked at the couples that they married and saw the ones who separated and thought, "well that could've gone better."
posted by bl1nk at 12:05 PM on December 4, 2012 [11 favorites]

bl1nk: Yes, they do both.

Also in some denominations the priests perform premarital counseling. You can imagine the soul searching involved when it was actually on your job description to help the couple identify and learn to work with issues that tear them apart six months later. Not to mention the fact that as a pastor it is appropriate and expected for you to speak up, whereas friends should generally shut up and be happy for the couple.

Not that the priests I know spend a lot of time worrying about it, but having a marriage dissolve quickly when you were privy to a lot of the premarital situation does leave a lot of room for wondering what could have been done or said.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:42 PM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

A number of my friends are pro photographers...

Very few of my friends are anti photographers, but I've heard that some brides do have problems with photographers, along the lines of, "Why did you make my arms look fat?"
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:57 PM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I know we go into marriage blind but WTF how did she not know her husband was smoking a pack and a half per day?

Ha. I sent this link to someone I want to have a bad day. Exquisite torture.
posted by surplus at 1:12 PM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

The entire photo documentation of my parent's wedding consists of exactly one group photograph of the entire involved party (including minister). I'm legally prohibited from getting married, so my opinion isn't exactly relevant, but that seems about right to me. I'd much rather spend money on a totally awesome vacation trip, or on a down payment on a house, than on the Wedding Industrial Complex. That said, if you're allowed to marry, and choose do so, my best wishes upon you and I hope you do it whatever way makes you truly happy. (My recommendation: An Elvis-impersonating minister, in full sequined jumpsuit, floating with you as you take your vows on board a zero-G airplane.)
posted by LastOfHisKind at 1:45 PM on December 4, 2012

Our initial wedding photographer cancelled on us after I had the nerve not to pre-pay the entire sum in advance, so a month before my wedding, I needed a new photographer. The caterer recommended a boudoir photographer ... and she was awesome. Just sweet, and funny, and sensitive to the best shots. I'm guessing her primary line of work made her exceptionally aware of how to make people feel comfortable and special, and it showed in our photos.

As much as I like our wedding photos, I wish we had more marriage photos, but it's not like we have professional photographers around on the things that have become incorporated into the shared history and narrative my spouse and I are building our marriage upon.
posted by sobell at 2:18 PM on December 4, 2012

That's what CCTV cameras in the kitchen are for.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:21 PM on December 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've met a lot of pro photographers and the general consensus among them about shooting weddings seems to be "Oh no, not again!" or even "OK, I'll do it but my fee includes a case of scotch and monthly visits to a therapist."

But they'll do it because it's on of the few ways a photographer can get paid reliably and fairly these days that doesn't involve taking pictures of terrible things in terrible places while hoping nothing terrible also happens to you or working for less than minimum wage building a stock photo portfolio.

But shooting weddings is generally a photographer's nightmare job, which is why it's usually so expensive. You've got more action and alcohol involved than a big NFL game with less formal rules and you're still supposed to deliver a refined, elegant product while tiptoeing around people's emotional needs on a really stressful day.

It's arguable you can judge a photographers professional success by their financial ability to not shoot weddings.
posted by loquacious at 2:48 PM on December 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

I used to do some wedding big band gigs. It was all about delivering what they paid for in the most un-subtle way possible. I think for some of those shows, we could have played only "In The Mood", for 2 hours straight, and they would have been completely satisfied. We could have done it in different keys if we got bored; "The Well-Tempered In The Mood".
posted by thelonius at 2:54 PM on December 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Unless that woman has anosmia, there is no way she didn't know her husband was smoking. The level of denial necessary to convince yourself that a pack-and-a-half-per-day smoker actually smells fresh as a daisy makes me think that she is clinically off her rocker.
posted by HotToddy at 3:55 PM on December 4, 2012

Thanks for sharing this article. As an occasional member of the "wedding industrial complex" (musician division) it really resonated for me. Who are these smiling, crying people processing to Pachabel?
posted by violinflu at 4:54 PM on December 4, 2012

I've done some professional wedding video work. Maybe I'm still new to it or naive, but I really do think there is something special about being a part of what should be one of the most memorable days in people's lives. It is a little stressful but you get a lot of energy back from it too. Not once have I been distracted about the prospects of their future marriage.
posted by dgran at 5:35 AM on December 5, 2012

I read this on lunch yesterday and sat in my car with fat tears rolling down my cheeks. Definitely not bowled over by the writing, but it's an interesting concept and the sentiment is touching. I didn't find it depressing; more bittersweet. Heartbreak doesn't end at the altar. Life is a heartbreaking affair.

Also, the closeted gay dude? Such an asshole. I feel sorry for him, but his first wife is amazingly forgiving if she can still love him and have fond memories of their wedding.
posted by peacrow at 11:14 AM on December 5, 2012

By the same author:

* Washington Post, 2007: Getting the Picture
"I witness acts of incredible tenderness -- a bride quietly pinning a photo of her mother who died of breast cancer into her dress; acts of incredible joy -- just about any father dancing with his daughter; and acts of questionable sanity -- a group of adult groomsmen allowing an 8-year-old to pilot a golf cart into a lake comes to mind. And each Sunday morning around 2 o'clock, as I collapse into bed after another wedding, I'm convinced that I must be part of some kind of clinical trial, with no end date in sight."
* Sports Shooter, 2009: The Lessons of Lindsay. "Teaching comes easy to this fashion major. It's everything else that's hard." A profile of Lindsay Ess: "I believe in myself. I can achieve greatness." // (Previously on Metafilter.) There was a lengthy Q&A with Mr. Medelsohn about the article. Here's an update on Ms. Ess' condition, and a video interview. (It's quite awesome.)

As mentioned upthread, Mr. Medelsohn has a website. But his previous website also contained a blog, and it has some interesting additional entries.
posted by zarq at 8:56 PM on December 5, 2012

« Older defective yeti's good gift games guides   |   You're gonna need a bigger boat. Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments