Wedding Photography: At War with the Obvious

I remember the early days of being a wedding photographer.  Days and dollars spent on courses, workshops, Wedding blogs, Pinterest boards – all with the aim of being a wedding photography rock star.  As a portraitist, I would be able to reel off a hundred poses to slim and flatter, and as a photojournalist, I knew which moments I had to look out for, which of course were the obvious ones.

I saw weddings as events that needed beautifying rather than social gatherings to be documented.  I shot weddings with industry approval in mind rather than how I – as an artist – saw it.  My personality, perception, vision all belonged to an industry that relied on promoted homogenous trends.  

“I see no reason for recording the obvious.”
– Edward Weston.
That changed when I started studying photography, proper.  The masters of non-wedding photography.  The raw portraits of Diane Arbus, Cartier-Bresson’s popularisation of the decisive moment, the snapshots of Garry Winogrand, the trivial yet poetic images of William Eggleston.  Going through my collection of photobooks, I thought to myself – “why couldn’t great wedding photography just be great photography?”.  Why does it just have to conform to an aesthetic promoted by wedding blogs: vintage filters, close-ups of flowers, couples told to headbutt each other as a forced display of affection.
If it sounds I’m on a bit of a rant, it’s only a mini one.  Not about weddings – I truly love them – but about ‘wedding photography’ and how it is versus how it should be.  A wedding photographer shouldn’t be a customer service person with a camera, whose creativity is fueled by Pinterest boards and ‘10 must have shots for wedding photographers’ list.  It should be someone who has the skill and confidence to express their own art, voice and personality.
I made a decision a while ago to change the way I worked.  Not to redefine the genre, or to rebel against an establishment, but simply to work with my own authentic voice; to create work that resonated with me, firstly, and then hoped that people out there would like it enough to hire me.
That was over five years ago and it took a while for the change to positively impact the business side.  The downward slide of enquiries was inevitable as couples looking for wedding photographers found me not quite ‘weddingy’ enough but I persevered because it felt right.  Slowly but surely the rewards came: I got to work with people who found my work interesting, because they were drawn to what I saw, not because I was labelled ‘a wedding photographer’.

It was William Eggleston who declared that he was at war with the obvious.  His pictures were derided at the time for being banal, mundane, inconsequential but are now celebrated for their poetic simplicity.  It’s no surprise that forty years on he’s still doing his thing.  I mean, what could be easier than being your authentic self?

William Eggleston, (Marcia Hare in Memphis Tennessee), 1975